This is What the NYPD’s Failed Muslim Surveillance Program Actually Looked Like

April 17, 2014

 

On Tuesday, the NYPD announced it would dismantle its Demographics Unit, the controversial squad of plainclothes officers tasked with monitoring and gathering intelligence in New York’s Muslim neighborhoods. The announcement was greeted with a mix of praise (for the move, considered long overdue) and skepticism (that the department would actually end the practice of mass, suspicion-less surveillance of Muslims).

The NYPD’s announcement came a week after Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and his intelligence chief, John Miller, met with Muslim advocates, according to the New York Times.

The Demographics Unit, first revealed by the Associated Press in 2011, sought to root out terrorists among us. Instead it severely damaged relations between the NYPD and New York Muslims without, by the department’s own admission, ever generating a single lead.

What did the failed surveillance program look like in practice? Data artist Josh Begley created a visual aid using images from NYPD documents obtained by the AP, most dated between 2004 to 2009. Begley terms the arresting web mosaic “the visual vernacular of NYPD surveillance.”

“The photographs come from a range of places — restaurants, bookstores, cricket fields, mosques, internet cafes — and most of the images are quite banal. What I find striking are the ones that contain glimpses of the photographer; a rear-view mirror capturing the bottom of an officer’s face. What do these photographs say about the people taking them?”

Profiling.is bears a certain resemblance to another of Begley’s projects, PrisonMap; it offers a bird’s-eye view of prisons around the country. (He also runs the Twitter account @dronestream, which issues a tweet for every reported drone strike.)*

Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York, one of the advocates who met with Bratton and Miller last week, echoed that sentiment. Speaking to the Times on Tuesday, she called the NYPD’s surveillance “psychological warfare in our community.”

“Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the cafe where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”

Asked about his reaction to Tuesday’s news, Begley pointed to a statement given by Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

“The Demographics Unit was only one component of a huge, discriminatory surveillance program that has sent informants and NYPD officers to spy on mosques, charities, student groups, and other mainstays of New York Muslim life,” Shamsi said on Tuesday. “We look forward to an end to all aspects of the bias-based policing that has stigmatized New York’s Muslim communities and done them such great harm.”

The Village Voice.com: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2014/04/josh_begley_profiling_is_nypd_demographics_unit.php

New York Muslim Stranded in Germany by No-Fly List

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today urged the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to allow Samir Suljovic, a 26-year-old New York resident and American citizen, to return home from Germany.

Suljovic traveled to Montenegro this summer to visit family and friends. After trying to fly back home to New York on October 1, he was informed by airline agents in Austria that the DHS and CBP had asked foreign authorities to prevent him from boarding his flight. Suljovic has been stranded for 17 days and has repeatedly been denied the right to fly home to New York. He has contacted the DHS and CBP liaison at JFK International Airport, but has received no response.

Despite being advised to seek help from the U.S. embassy in Germany, embassy personnel have reportedly provided no assistance, and instead have interrogated Suljovic and allegedly searched his cell phone without his permission.

Suljovic was born and raised in Oakland Gardens, Queens.

A letter addressed to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, DHS Secretary Janet Napalitano, New York members of the United States Congress, and the United States Embassy in Munich was sent by CAIR-NY expressing concern and disappointment in the government’s role in preventing Suljovic from returning to his family in New York.

Earlier this year, CAIR called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate acts of “coercion and intimidation” allegedly used by the FBI to pressure Muslim citizens into giving up their constitutional rights if they wished to return to the United States from overseas.

World’s first Muslim model agency opens in New York

The launch of the world’s first Muslim model agency, in New York’s fashionable Tribeca district, offered an interesting alternative to the options presented at New York Fashion Week a few blocks uptown. A coming-together of a particularly stylish segment of the Islamic community in this cosmopolitan city, the event on Saturday night played host to everyone from a fully veiled woman in black abaya to dramatically coiffed fashionistas (and fashionistos) curious about a groundbreaking project.

The founder of the Underwraps agency, Nailah Lymus, is a born-and-bred New York Muslim with a love of fashion and a mission to prove Islam’s worth and tolerance to a city whose inhabitants remain, in many cases, emotionally fragile and somewhat suspicious of Islam more than a decade after the tragic September 11 terrorist attacks.

US Muslim leaders denounce al-Qaeda’s slur toward Obama

Spiritual leaders of a New York Muslim community lashed out against purported al-Qaeda message attacking President-elect Barack Obama, using racist language, and comparing him unfavorably to the late Malcolm X. The imams at a Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial, Educational, and Cultural Center issued a statement saying: “We find it insulting when anyone speaks for our community instead of giving us the dignity and the honor of speaking for ourselves.”

The Council on America-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also condemned Zawahiri’s comments, stating: “As Muslims and as Americans, we will never let terrorist groups or terror leaders falsely claim to represent us or our faith. We once again repudiate al-Qaeda’s actions, rhetoric, and world view and re-state our condemnation of all forms of terrorism and religious extremism.”

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