House Democrats: NYPD should purge spy files, end monitoring of mosques, cafe conversations

WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Thursday urged the New York Police Department to purge its intelligence databases of information gleaned from its clandestine spying on Muslim neighborhoods.

They also criticized the Obama administration for offering tepid responses to questions about whether it endorses such tactics.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress and one of the lawmakers who introduced the resolution, said he understood the political difficulties the White House faces in wading into a debate over racial profiling and national security.

“But transformational leadership is about standing up and doing the right thing,” he said.

Dozens of lawmakers have been asking the Justice Department for eight months to investigate the NYPD’s tactics and determine whether they are legal. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the top civil rights official at the department, has not answered questions about the matter. His spokeswoman has said attorneys are reviewing the requests to investigate.

Lawmakers introduced a resolution Thursday calling for an end to NYPD programs that infiltrated mosques and monitored even innocent conversations in cafes and bookstores. Muslim business owners were included in police files, even with no allegations of wrongdoing.

New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin appeared on Fox & Friends on Monday where he blasted Congressional Democrats for “voting to defund the New York police department” due to what he describes as a persistent narrative that the NYPD has been targeting and profiling Muslim citizens without probable cause. He says that this move by Democrats in the House runs counter to the narrative that President Barack Obama is building up ahead of the November election, which is that Democrats are tough on terrorism at home and abroad.

House Democrats decry Bloomberg’s ‘underhanded’ response to concerns over NYPD Muslim spying

WASHINGTON — Ten House Democrats, including a member of the party’s leadership and lawmakers who oversee intelligence and homeland security matters, have criticized New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his “underhanded and unprofessional” response to criticism of the New York Police Department’s spying programs.

The Associated Press has reported for months that the NYPD systematically spied on Muslims neighborhoods, using informants and undercover officers to serve as “listening posts” in mosques and businesses in New York and New Jersey. Police documented the details of sermons, even when they were innocuous and peaceful, and infiltrated Muslim student groups on college campuses. NYPD officers catalogued where Muslims ate, eat and prayed — with no mention of criminal activity — and targeted Mosques using techniques typically reserved for criminal investigations.

The lawmakers asked Bloomberg to explain what exactly he knew about the NYPD’s intelligence operations and to explain how federal money was used.

Anti-Shariah movement loses steam in state legislatures

The wave of anti-Shariah legislation has broken in recent weeks, as bills in several states have either died or been withdrawn, raising questions about whether the anti-Shariah movement has lost its momentum.

At this point in 2011, 22 state legislatures had either passed or were considering bills to prohibit judges from considering either Islamic law, known as Shariah, or foreign law in their decisions.

What a difference a year can make.

According to Gavel to Gavel, an online newsletter that tracks state laws affecting courts, similar bills have also recently died or are likely to die in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, and New Mexico, although at least a few of them could be revived next year.

Last year, anti-foreign law bills died in the Arkansas, Maine, Texas, and Wyoming legislatures, and were not revived this year, according to Gavel to Gavel.

“There really wasn’t much time or interest in discussing this,” said John Schorg, a spokesman for Indiana’s House Democrats.

While the anti-Shariah movement may be losing momentum, it certainly hasn’t gone away. On March 12, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed an anti-foreign law bill, joining Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee in passing such laws.

And in Florida, Democratic state Sen. Nan Rich, the minority leader, acknowledged that practicality, not principles, is what undid the anti-foreign law bill there.