Human Rights

NYPD's Practice of Targeting Innocent Muslims to Become Informants Blasted by Civil Rights Lawyers

Petty crimes lead to biased questions like: 'Do you attend mosque?'

Photo Credit: Chameleon's Eye/

The New York City Police Department routinely targets innocent American Muslims for surveillance based only on their faith. That was the disturbing revellation in an exhaustive New York Times article Sunday entitled “New York Police Recruit Muslims to Be Informers,”  that revealed that the NYPD "debriefing team" has conducted more than 1,000 interviews and home visits with Muslims who just happen to brush up against the criminal justice system for any reason (parking ticket disputes, invalid driving license). These interviews and "visits" have nothing to do with whatever petty crime that people who happen to come from Muslim countries are accused of. Instead, they are loaded with religiously-biased questions. The goal: to recruit Muslim informants.

According to the Times, NYPD documents show that, "religion had become a normal topic of police inquiry in the city’s holding cells and lockup facilities. Some reports written by detectives after debriefing sessions noted whether a prisoner attended mosque, celebrated Muslim holidays or had made a pilgrimage to Mecca.”

Some of the people caught in this dragnet included: An Afghani food cart vendor who dared argue about a ticket with an officer, an accounting student from Pakistan caught diring without a valid license, and an Egyptian limousine driver caught up in a prostitution sting. They and hundreds of others were eventually asked if they would be willing to eavesdrop in cafes, mosques and restaurants frequented by Muslims, the article says.  

Civil rights lawyers quickly condemned the practice in no uncertain terms. "The article makes clear that the NYPD's announcement last month that it is disbanding the Zone Assessment Unit (formerly known as the Demographics Unit) does not reflect a change in the NYPD's practice of targeting Muslims and planting informants in New York's Muslim communities without any reason to believe that members of those communities are engaged in criminal activity," stated a joint press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates, a group working to protect the civil rights of Americans of all faiths.  

The practice makes clear that the entire Muslim community has remained inherently suspect ever since 9/11, with the current head of the police department's Intelligence Division explaining it away to the Times as providing "visibility into the world of terrorism."

Bobby Farid Hadid, a former sergeant with the Citywide Debriefing Team, and a Muslim immigrant from Algeria disagreed vociferously, saying to the Times: "Why are we asking, 'Are you a Muslim? What mosque do you go to?' What does that have to do with terrorism?"

Three federal lawsuits challenging the NYPD's anti-Muslim practices are pending. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Muslim Advocates believe that "a federal court order is the only way to ensure that the NYPD will stop its unconstitutional practices." 




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