NYPD surveillance of political activism questioned

May 27, 2014

Several groups plan to file a formal complaint on Tuesday seeking an audit of the New York Police Department’s intelligence gathering operations, after recent revelations that the department had been monitoring political activists, sending undercover officers to their meetings and filing reports on their plans.

The groups said the complaint would be the first over surveillance to be filed with the department’s new office of inspector general; it is likely be a closely watched test for the office, whose duty is to oversee the tactics and the policies of the police.

The City Council, despite opposition from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, created the office last year after complaints about the overuse of stop-and-frisk tactics and surveillance of Muslim communities.

The complaint being filed on Tuesday follows the release of documents by The Associated Press this spring revealing that undercover police officers had attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists.

“We’re cautiously hopeful that the inspector general will pursue his mandate in favor of civil liberties,” said Robert Jereski, a coordinator of a group called Friends of Brad Will.

In a statement, the Department of Investigation confirmed the paperwork was received. It said Eure will review it and “determine appropriate investigative action once the office is staffed.”

NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis said the police department would cooperate with any inquiry.

The complaint was filed by a coalition that includes environmental, human rights, housing rights and animal rights activists. It accuses NYPD of targeting “First Amendment protected activities like political advocacy” that provide “vital nourishment to our democratic system of government and prevents its corruption and atrophy.”

In 2012, the AP disclosed documents detailing how an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans in 2008 to attend the People’s Summit, a gathering of liberal groups. The officer reported overhearing participants discuss how the Friends of Brad Will was planning demonstrations in Mexico and across the United States to demand the removal of the governor of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Friends of Brad Will — formed after the murder of Will in 2006 while he was working as a journalist in Mexico — has a stated mission of increasing “public awareness about the human rights abuses linked to the ‘war on drugs.’” Since the disclosure about the NYPD’s surveillance, it and other groups have seen a decline in donations and participation, Jereski said.

“It’s chilled the landscape to have the lawless behavior of the NYPD held over us,” he said.

Muslims and the N.Y.P.D.

May 25, 2014

New York City’s police commissioner, William Bratton, made the right decision last month when he said he would disband a unit used by his predecessor, Raymond Kelly, to spy on law-abiding Muslims as they worshiped or patronized businesses in their communities. Beyond proving useless for intelligence purposes, the Demographics Unit undermined the fight against terrorism by alienating Muslims who were understandably angry about being singled out, not for illegal conduct but because of their religious affiliation.

This problem has yet to be fully resolved. As The Times’s Joseph Goldstein reported, the department is still running a program that singles out Muslims in a problematic way, this time to recruit them as informants. The department says the program, run by a squad of detectives euphemistically known as the Citywide Debriefing Team, has led to breaks in important cases. But the department has a long history of trampling on people’s rights during investigations of political activity, while making inflated claims about the value of its intelligence operations.

The program has not yet been challenged in court. But the Federal District Court in Manhattan criticized a similar set of practices more than a decade ago, in a case brought on behalf of protesters who had been swept up in an antiwar demonstration in 2003 in New York City. As in the questioning of Muslims, the police in that case wandered far afield — asking those arrested about their political affiliations, their feelings about the president, their opinions about the war in Iraq. The police also held people in custody for extended periods, so that they could be made available to specific detectives who were not there at the time.

The judge ridiculed the city for describing this obviously coercive arrangement as an innocuous “debriefing,” saying protesters had been subjected to “custodial interrogation” — which meant that steps needed to be taken to protect their rights. The Police Department is right to develop informants that would help them foil terrorist plots. But it would be counterproductive to do so in ways that violate the Constitution or make more people fear the police.

NYPD’s new spying outrage: Innocent Muslims treated worse than guilty bankers

When “Arabic-sounding” names are automatically suspicious — but financial crimes are ignored — here’s the result

Stop your car to help a woman who appears to be lost — and get pressured, while in police custody, to become an informant. That’s what happened to one of the men profiled in a recent New York Times report on yet more aggressive spying on Muslims by the NYPD.

Egyptian-born Moro Said pulled over one night because, he says, a woman looked like she needed directions. She turned out to be an undercover officer, and hauled him in on a prostitution-related charge. Then cops pressured him to start informing them on what he sees and hears in his mosque or in cafes.

As the Times describes it, the NYPD adapted a process used with suspects who might know about related crime, like drug dealers or low-level mafia members, to the Muslim community in general. When Muslims — or people with “Arabic-sounding names” — were arrested, they would be interviewed and recruited to inform generally on mosques or cafes or other areas frequented by Muslims.

The program remains active under new NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton’s lead; the Department has conducted 220 such interviews so far this year.

Around the globe, it seems, the government continues to use the tools of law enforcement to find more spies to report on innocent Muslims.

It’s not just coercion that law enforcement uses to find people to inform on their community: the government has twice told the FISA Court that it may use the phone dragnet program — in which it conducts contact chaining on a database of the phone record of Americans’ phone records — to identify potential informants.

Imagine how such generalized spying would be regarded against potentially riskier set of targets, like the finance criminals who wrecked the economy in 2008 and have continued to engaged in damaging fraud. Imagine if every banker who visited a sex worker got hauled in and was offered leniency if he informed on his co-workers, bosses, and clients? (Key to the coercion, of course, is that many Muslims don’t have the resources of bankers to fight low-level criminal accusations.)

Of course, bankers need not worry. A recent DOJ Inspector General report revealed that when DOJ attempted to roll out undercover teams (not civilian informants, but FBI undercover officers) to target mortgage fraud, FBI Agents either weren’t informed such a plan existed or, if they were, needed “specific direction or training on how to commence a mortgage fraud” undercover operation.

The FBI, apparently, couldn’t figure out how to treat suspected bank criminals like it and many other law enforcement agencies treat innocent Muslims.

Therein lies the problem. It has gotten too easy, since 9/11, to treat the Muslim community as a whole as suspect. It has become too easy to use the tools rolled out after 9/11 to combat real threats (and borrowed, before that, from the drug war) to instead criminalize a faith community. It would be unthinkable — and unworkable — for more privileged communities. And yet it continues.

NYC defends use of Muslim police informants

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department disbanded a unit that tracked the everyday lives of Muslims, but it has taken a tough stance in a heated legal battle over its continuing use of Muslim informants in terror threat investigations.

Muslim groups filed a civil rights lawsuit last year asking a federal judge to declare the surveillance unconstitutional and halt it.

City lawyers struck back by suggesting the plaintiffs brought the attention on themselves with “rhetoric or their known, suspected or rumored associations with people or organizations of ill repute.” The city then demanded any communications by the plaintiffs — including two Brooklyn mosques, an imam and a Muslim charity — that mention terrorism, jihad or the war in Afghanistan as well as financial records from the mosques and the charity, including names of donors.

The plaintiffs say the city is unjustly seeking private information. Disclosure of records from the mosque and the charity “would further alienate and chill congregants, members, donors and donees … and thereby infringe on plaintiffs’ right to free exercise, free speech and associational privacy,” their lawyers wrote in court papers in late March.

The New York Times, citing internal NYPD documents, reported this week that the police department’s Intelligence Division is continuing to debrief Muslims arrested for petty offenses to see what they know about other crimes and if some could be persuaded to volunteer as informants.

Police Commissioner William Bratton defended the debriefings Tuesday on a visit to Israel, telling the Jerusalem Post that they are “an essential element of policing” that doesn’t single out Muslims. City lawyers also say the NYPD puts people under surveillance for legitimate investigative reasons, not because of their ethnicity or religion.

But Muslim advocates say the program sends the wrong message.

 

Judge urged to nix NYC law on profiling claims

NEW YORK — A New York City law easing the way for racial profiling claims against police could entangle them in lawsuits over elusive questions about what they were thinking when stopping someone, police unions told a judge Tuesday.

The unions faced off in a Manhattan court against lawyers for the city — now including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which has joined in defending a law that his predecessor sued to try to stop.

The 2013 law relaxes some legal standards for claims that the stop and frisk tactic or other police techniques were used in a discriminatory way. The measure reflected concerns about NYPD’s use of stop and frisk tactic its extensive surveillance of Muslims, spying disclosed in stories by The Associated Press.

The city says that the law is valid and valuable.

“The suggestion that the statute was passed to instill fear in the heart of the New York City police department is laughable. It’s ridiculous,” said Andrew Celli, a lawyer representing the City Council. “Good cops have nothing to fear from (the law).”

State Supreme Court Justice Anil Singh didn’t indicate when he would rule.

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

CAIR-NY Welcomes NYPD Decision to Disband Muslim Spying Unit

April 15, 2014

 

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today welcomed a decision by the New York Police Department (NYPD) to disband a special unit that conducted widespread warrantless surveillance of law-abiding Muslims.

That surveillance was part of a comprehensive human mapping program that described and monitored Islamic institutions, including houses of worship, student groups and businesses that cater to the Muslim community. The NYPD also recruited informants it referred to as “mosque crawlers” to monitor religious sermons without any suspicion of wrongdoing. Police officials acknowledge that the program never generated a criminal lead.

 

Source: http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=57870e58-2fb4-4601-9551-5f074cd26093&c=b637dae0-b6b0-11e3-8ff7-d4ae527b8c41&ch=b6d8d5d0-b6b0-11e3-9070-d4ae527b8c41

Civil rights groups appeal ruling allowing NYPD to spy on Muslims

March 21, 2014

 

(RNS) Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights on Friday (March 21) appealed a federal judge’s ruling that affirmed the right of the New York City Police Department to spy on Muslims based on their faith and ethnicity.

Last month, Newark U.S. District Judge William Martini rejected charges of illegal spying, stating that any harm suffered by the plaintiffs was not because of the spying program but because of news reports that revealed the secret program in 2011.

The appeal was filed with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

“The message of the decision is that it’s OK to spy on Muslim Americans,” said lead plaintiff Syed Farhaj Hassan who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2001 and served in Iraq in 2003. “It’s a slap in the face to American Muslims who have served this country, served their community, and served their families by being peaceful citizens here.”

The two legal organizations argue the NYPD violated the constitutional rights of their clients based on their religion, and caused them harm. They allege fear of being spied on discouraged Muslims from attending mosque or speaking in public, and scared them from making charitable contributions to Muslim charities.

The lawsuit does not seek money for the plaintiffs, but asks the court to stop NYPD spying in New Jersey. The suit also asks the court to order the NYPD to expunge all records of the plaintiffs collected through the spying program.

Lawyers said internal NYPD documents included a list of 28 “ancestries of interest” and other policies showing that officers based their spying on the ethnic and religious background of their targets.

Since 2002, the NYPD has spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two Muslim elementary schools, and two Muslim Student Associations on college campuses in New Jersey, lawyers said. Forms of monitoring include video surveillance, photographing and community mapping.

The lawsuit is the first of three challenging the NYPD program.

 

RNS.com: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/03/21/civil-rights-groups-appeal-ruling-allowing-nypd-spy-muslims/

Why One Muslim Group Gave The NYPD’s Ray Kelly An Award

December 17, 2013

By Matt Sledge

 

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly received an award this month from a source that may seem unlikely: a group of Muslim community leaders.

“The Muslim community appears to be softening its stance toward Ray Kelly as he walks out the door,” one tabloid crowed, suggesting that a Muslim council of 10 members hand-picked by the NYPD represented Muslim New Yorkers in all their diversity. But the meaning of the award granted Dec. 9 by the Muslim Advisory Council, set up by the NYPD in 2012, is very much up for debate.

New York’s hundreds of thousands of Muslims come from backgrounds rich and poor, from lands far away to uptown Harlem. The Muslim Advisory Council award — derided by the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islam Relations as a “cheap public relations stunt” — highlights the diverse reactions to revelations of police surveillance of Muslims. Some Muslims have retreated into silent distrust. Others have expressed outrage. A third group sees a different path — trying to engage.

“The idea of the council is great,” said Dr. Ahmed Jaber, a retired obstetrician and gynecologist who used to sit on the Muslim Advisory Council. “We were discussing it years before Kelly. We wanted that relationship with the higher authority.”

At almost the same time it was giving Kelly his award, the advisory council submitted a Dec. 1 memo highlighting controversies that have marred the relations of Kelly’s police department with Muslims: a “radicalization” study panned by civil liberties groups, an Islamophobic screed featuring an interview with Kelly that was screened as a training video for NYPD cadets, and “terrorism enterprise investigations” that have listened in on imams as they deliver sermons.

Those issues, the council wrote in its memo, have “strained the relationship between the Muslim Community and the NYPD” and “served to erode some of the goodwill the NYPD has fostered by other means.”

But the memo also called the NYPD’s efforts to build relationships with communities a “model of cooperation,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner John McCarthy noted in a statement to HuffPost.

 

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/17/ray-kelly-muslim-award_n_4455537.html

 

 

At helm of NYPD, Bratton will take on role of healer-in-chief of a worried Muslim community

December 6, 2013

 

When William J. Bratton takes over as commissioner of the New York Police Department early next year, he will inherit the country’s most powerful local counterterrorism force, but one that has alienated the city’s large Muslim community.

“We need to heal some of the wounds, reopen the communications and the partnership,” Bill de Blasio (D), the mayor-elect, said Thursday while introducing Bratton, 66, as the next police commissioner at a news conference.

Bratton will have his hands full in this role of healer-in-chief as he reassures New York’s Muslim community and other minorities that they will not be racially profiled.

The next commissioner said there are people in the city who “feel that . . . there has been unnecessary intrusion into their lives.”

In 2003 under Kelly, the NYPD launched an aggressive campaign to infiltrate certain ethnic communities in the city’s five boroughs and map where Muslims live, work, eat and pray.

Muslims in New York say they have reason to be hopeful that Bratton will change course while still protecting the country’s top terrorism target. As chief of the Los Angeles police, Bratton came to reject the idea of mapping.

“We police this city with the consent and cooperation of the community,” Bratton said in 2007, announcing his decision to abandon a mapping program. “We did not have that here, and we will not go forward with this program.”

Bratton said he didn’t want to “spread fear.”

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/at-helm-of-nypd-bratton-will-take-on-role-of-healer-in-chief-as-muslim-community-looks-on/2013/12/06/0facc264-5e84-11e3-95c2-13623eb2b0e1_story.html