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New York Muslims Fight Back Against Police Department's Institutionalized Paranoia About Islam

Muslim community leaders say Islamophobia is deep-seated in the New York Police Department.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had a message to New York City's Muslim community: don't worry that the New York Police Department showed an anti-Muslim film to around 1,500 officers, because top cop Ray Kelly “ probably visits more mosques” than many Muslims in New York.

Speaking at a press conference in Queens, Bloomberg continued his defense of Kelly: “He has reached out to this community as he has reached out to lots of other communities. We have things regularly at 1 Police Plaza for clergy people of each religion, including Islam. And we'll continue to do that.”  

But Muslim community leaders and activists, backed by a diverse coalition of allies, are having none of that. They want Kelly fired. And they say this latest incident shows how anti-Muslim sentiment has become institutionalized in the NYPD. 

A rejoinder to Kelly's defense was already on display at around the same time Bloomberg spoke, at a January 26 press conference on the steps of City Hall. Protesters held signs labeling Kelly a racist. Anger was in the air, and Muslim activists and allies repeatedly called for Kelly's resignation; for “corrective training” for the officers who viewed the film; and for independent oversight of the NYPD. As chants of “Kelly must go” rang through the air, some activists demanded state or federal oversight of New York City police. 

“This outrage is a violation of the honor of our city and those who protect it,” said Cyrus McGoldrick, the civil rights manager for the  Council on American-Islamic Relations' New York chapter. 

The battle is centered around an  Islamophobic film titled The Third Jihad, which was shown to police officers on a continuous loop during “the sign-in, medical and administrative orientation process,” according to police documents obtained by the  Brennan Center for Justice. The film, which is filled with violent imagery and posits that mainstream Muslim groups are in fact secretly plotting to take over the U.S., was  financed by the Clarion Fund, a right-wing organization with links to Israeli settlers. Compounding the NYPD and Bloomberg administration's problems is the fact that  Kelly willingly agreed to sit down for a 90-minute interview for the film and that NYPD spokesman  Paul Browne lied about Kelly's involvement and how many officers saw the film. 

This is hardly the first time NYPD's problematic relationship with the city's Muslims has come to light. But what makes the episode significant is the media firestorm it has created over the spokesperson's lies at a time of increasing awareness of police abuse due to Occupy Wall Street-related arrests and brutality. Muslim activists are looking to capitalize on that energy as they confront the NYPD in the weeks ahead. 

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the NYPD has had a fraught relationship with the city's 800,000-member Muslim community, one of the  fastest growing religious communities in the city. Billions of dollars have been spent to make NYPD one of the  most powerful forces in the fight against terrorism. But the NYPD has been routinely accused of  harassing and entrapping Muslims in terrorism-related cases. The final straw for many Muslims came when an  Associated Press investigative series published last summer exposed an arbitrary spying program, implemented with CIA help, that targeted virtually all of New York's Muslims.  A “demographics unit” established at the NYPD has “monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs” in Muslim communities, as well as mosques, the AP reported. It was also revealed that the NYPD  spied on Muslim student associations on college campuses.  

Revelations of the spying program dealt blows to a Bloomberg administration whose relations with the Muslim community were at a relative high note when the  mayor defended the Park 51 mosque project near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.  

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