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Muslim Students Reeling From Shocking News of NYPD’s Spying

The NYPD's nearly unchecked surveillance program monitored Internet exchanges and postings of Muslim students from at least 16 colleges in the Northeast.

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Hamid told me that the MSA at Yale was appreciative of Levin’s response, but he says, it does not assuage students’ anxiety of being watched. “We just don’t know how far it goes, if it’s still happening, and what it will mean.”

A Widening Net

Jawad Rasul, a 24 year old film student from Queens who attends the City College of New York knows that he was watched, and at close range. The AP report recounts an undercover officer who joined the MSA at the City College of New York and even accompanied 18 of the students on a 2008 rafting trip. The NYPD informant noted the names of all the students and wrote in his report, “In addition to the regularly scheduled events (Rafting), the group prayed at least four times a day, and much of the conversation was spent discussing Islam and was religious in nature.”

Rasul was named in the report. He said the rafting trip was just one of many community activities the MSA had that year sponsored. “There’s nothing to say really about the trip, except that it was a group of Muslims,” he said.

In retrospect Rasul now thinks he should have known that the group was being monitored. “What makes us think that we know who it was,” Rasul said of the spy, “is that he was an older person, nobody saw him taking classes even though he said he was taking engineering classes. He said he had a job but somehow he was available for all the trips.”

Muslim students at City College of New York and at seven other campuses within the city limits have known that NYPD informants have watched them since October when a previous AP story reported the surveillance there. The new report released over the weekend illuminates some of the breadth of that surveillance. It also exposes the broader NYPD program that’s reached significantly outside the confines of New York City, into upstate New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

The targeted universities outside of New York City include Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse, Clarkson University, Rutgers University campuses and numerous State University of New York campuses.

The NYPD’s domestic anti-terrorism program also has tentacles reaching far beyond campus groups. On Tuesday, the AP reported that in 2007, the NYPD sent officers from its “ Demographics Unit” to Newark, where officers took pictures of “every mosque” and eavesdropped in “Muslim businesses.” The police found no criminal activity.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker reacted Wednesday with an unequivocal rejection of the NYPD program. “If anyone in my police department had known this was a blanket investigation of individuals based on nothing but their religion,” Booker said, “that strikes at the core of our beliefs and my beliefs very personally, and it would have merited a far sterner response.”

On Thursday, the  AP released yet another installment of its investigation based on more documents from the NYPD, this time providing a striking level of detail on the department’s surveillance of area Mosques. The report recounts how cops, known inside the department as “mosque crawlers,” targeted the region’s mosques “with tactics normally reserved for criminal organizations.” The NYPD took down liscence plate numbers of worshippers and attached video cameras to telephone poles outside religious spaces.

Despite increasingly irrefutable evidence that the NYPD is systematically violating the civil liberties of Muslims solely because they are Muslim, city leaders have continued to insist the practices are merely common public safety work.

“The Police Department goes where there are allegations, and they look to see whether those allegations are true,”  said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reported the New York Times.

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