Muslim Students Reeling From Shocking News of NYPD’s Spying
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Other students are just figuring out what it all means and how to respond.
On Wednesday night, over a hundred Columbia University students gathered at a community forum organized by the Columbia Muslim Student Association and several other religious student groups. Speakers talked about a growing feeling of insecurity. Several said they worried about speaking openly in class or among friends.
Maliha Tariq, a premed student who is vice president of the Columbia’s MSA told me, “I’m worried that students won’t feel comfortable practicing their right to freedom of speech or practice religion.”
Khalil Abdur-Rashid, Columbia’s Muslim religious life advisor, said, “We’re being bullied by the NYPD. We need someone to step up and say, ‘Stop bullying our kids.’ “
The night before, on Tuesday, 40 students gathered in a room at Fordham University where Diala Shamas and a colleague from the City University of New York Law School’s CLEAR program conducted a know-your-rights training. The central points of the workshop, which included a couple of skits reenacting interactions with police, were basic: If approached by a police officer, you have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney and the right to be presented with a warrant before police search your home.
“There’s no sure fire way to protect yourself from surveillance,” Shamas said after the session, “but what we’re trying to do is provide an immediate response to this targeting so these students know their rights at a basic level. These are ways to minimize the damage and also break a silence that can fester around these issues.”
After the training, one of the students was not so sure if his new knowledge would help. “I’m happy to know my rights,” he said, putting air quotes around the last word, “but basically it’s like the NYPD doesn’t know we have them. Or they don’t care. Yeah, I think they don’t care.”
Seth Freed Wessler is a senior research associate at the Applied Research Center and an investigative reporter for Colorlines.com covering immigration, criminal justice, economic and workplace inequality and the safety net.