NYC Councilmen and Activists Voice Outrage Against NYPD's Spying on Political Groups
Today at 1 Police Plaza, representatives from a wide array of activist groups held a press conference to express their outrage regarding NYPD infiltration, surveillance, and spying on political organizations. Organizers stressed that theNYPD document the Associated Press made available on Friday shows that the NYPD’s surveillance program goes far beyond the Muslim community, and is not related to anti-terrorism.
Bill Doares from Al-Awda New York, a coalition to preserve the rights of Palestinian refugees, said groups like his are targeted because of political motivations. He said, “We are aware that our organization has been a target by repeated attempts of infiltration by undercover police officers who seek to entrap our members and have caused intimidation in the community and inhibited our ability to organize.”
Doares said that organizations like Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, War Resisters Leagues, and Critical Resistance, all cited in the NYPD document, are targeted for simple reasons. He said, “We all have in common that we fight against racism and for justice, against war, and we are targeted by the police for that reason.”
“We question the right of an institution like the NYPD,” said Doares, “that routinely perpetrates unrestrained violence against people of color, as witnessed in the murder of Ramarley Graham, John Collado, Sean Bell and others.”
Multiple speakers said that targeting activist organizations and even the family of the unarmed youth Sean Bell, who was gunned down by the police, doubly victimizes communities already fighting against their discrimination. They said that the NYPD is “out of control,” and evoked the NYPD’s spying beyond Muslims as evidence that surveillance is falsely justified by security and the alleged threat of terrorism.
Matt Daloisio, board member of the War Resisters League, said NYPD infiltration of the WRL has existed for many years. He said, “War has always been justified in the name of security. But all too often, security is an alibi used to limit freedom, to dehumanize people and sustain those in power.” Daloisio added that if the NYPD were listening while spying on the WRL, “they would know who the real criminals are.” He said, “It is outrageous that the NYPD would put any of us under the glare of suspicion, spy on us, try to disturb our activities.”
Lamis Deek, organizer and defense attorney for the Muslim Defense Project of the National Lawyers Guild's New York branch, said the behavior of the NYPD threatens liberty. Deek said, “When we consider that the foundation of democracy is built on the right to free speech and political participation”—and we realize that the people and organizations represented here have been working to protect and empower people to engage in political activity—“then we realize that the NYPD is attacking the very fabric of the United States of America and the very fabric of the Constitution itself.”
Deek added, “Beyond their attack on the ideologies upon [which] this country was built, they are physically attacking and preying on our communities—sending predators, spies, agents whose backgrounds we don’t know—into our homes, into our communities, into our places of worship.”
In a nod to the Trayvon Martin case, Jumaane Williams, a New York City councilman, wore a hooded sweatshirt to the press conference. An outspoken critic of stop-and-frisk, Williams has been a vocal advocate for reevaluating NYPD power structures. At the conference, Williams said that the NYPD’s surveillance beyond Muslim communities and into “liberal groups that have nothing to do with terrorism” shows that terrorism is just “the excuse they’re using.” Williams said that the NYPD is intentionally targeting communities that have been historically disenfranchised.
Williams calls for independent oversight of the NYPD to increase accountability, and demands, once again, leadership from Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Statements from Williams and another New York City councilman, Ydanis Rodriguez, revealed tension between a frustrated city council and the mayor and commissioner.
“All the information we are getting is showing that we have to be concerned about what’s happening,” said Williams, who asked how people could trust these leaders when reports indicate what he described as “our worst nightmare.”
“What I blame is the lack of leadership from the top,” said Williams, “I’m imploring the mayor and commissioner again to show leadership so we don’t have to go to the Department of Justice, to the Fed to make the changes that we need.”
Williams added, “You have the power to make the changes today, but if you don’t, rest assured that we will.”
City councilman Ydanis Rodriguez has repeatedly expressed his concern with the NYPD’s behavior, perhaps most notably the NYPD’s treatment of Occupy protesters. “Kelly should know: You are not the head of the FBI. You are not the head of the CIA,” said Rodriguez, “You are accountable to New Yorkers.”
Rodriguez, who was arrested during the NYPD’s eviction of Liberty Plaza, said during the press conference that the NYPD must work to preserve liberty like it fights terrorism.
“We should not go back…to when the FBI was following everyone who looked like...by their definition, a communist,” said Rodriguez, “because they were involved in a student group, because they were involved in the anti-war movement.”
Rodriguez said, “Enough is enough. This city belongs to all of us."