A Balancing Act for the Police Department

In the binary system offered by Machiavelli — “it is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both” — the New York Police Department loses on either count.

The police in a big city can’t expect to be truly loved; it’s not part of the job description. At the same time, it is hard to imagine that the fondest wish of the department brass is to be feared. What, then, would distinguish them from an occupying force?

But there is a third possibility not covered by the Machiavellian construct. It is a middle path, arguably the sanest choice of all: to be respected. That’s where the department has been struggling of late, on several fronts.

Its surveillance of Muslims as part of its counterterrorism strategy has led to a concerted pushback from Islamic groups. The huge numbers of New Yorkers affected by its stop-and-frisk policy, principally young African-Americans and Latinos, have produced cries of racism and legislative attempts to limit the practice. Its battles with Occupy Wall Street have generated criticism that it fails to respect the rights of those engaged in lawful dissent.

3 Dem senators seek inspector general for NYPD, follows Occupy crackdown, Muslim surveillance

ALBANY, N.Y. — Three Democratic New York state senators want an independent inspector to oversee the New York Police Department after what they called several abuses, including reports of widespread surveillance of Muslims and the crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protesters.

The bill follows stories by The Associated Press that detailed monitoring of Muslims, a tactic decried by some as religious profiling. The bill targets “stop-and-frisk, the treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and the wholesale surveillance of the Muslim community in New York City and other jurisdictions.”

The measure from Sens. Kevin Parker, Eric Adams and Bill Perkins of New York City who are frequent critics of police dealings with minorities has little chance of passage, however. The Senate bill lacks essential support by the Republican majority, which is close to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It also needs a request from city officials.

Bloomberg opposes the bill and said the city won’t turn over the police department to an outside group. He and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have defended the department’s tactics and say police follow only legitimate leads and don’t monitor ethnic neighborhoods. A May 2006 police report addressed to Kelly, however, recommended increased spying at mosques and an assessment of the region’s Palestinian community to look for potential terrorists.
“No one is above the law, not even law enforcement,” Parker said. “This legislation seeks to restore the public trust and honor the heroism and service of thousands of officers.”

In a series of investigative reports since August, the AP has revealed that, with the CIA’s help, the NYPD developed spying programs that monitored every aspect of Muslim life and built databases on where innocent Muslims eat, shop, work and pray. Plainclothes officers monitored conversations in Muslim neighborhoods and wrote daily reports about what they heard.

Occupy Wall Street Meets Tahrir Square

At the risk of being obvious, let us list the ways that Occupy Wall Street is not like Tahrir Square: no protesters have been killed, there have been no demands for the president to step down and no crowds swelling above six figures. The protesters are in far less danger, and seem to pose far less danger to the powerful, than in Egypt.

BUT it’s worth pausing for a moment on this point: Here in Lower Manhattan, and around the country, protesters have embraced a movement springing from the Arab world as a model of freedom, democracy and nonviolence.

“Are you ready for a Tahrir moment?” an initial call to action demanded. Now, newcomers to Zuccotti Park are given leaflets explicitly connecting the movements: “We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring occupation tactics to achieve our ends and we encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

Two blocks from ground zero — the same distance, though in a different direction, as the proposed Muslim community center and mosque that raised a ruckus last year — a subtle change in the Arab world’s image, wrought by the events of recent months, is on display.
In a place so sensitized, the big news, perhaps, is that the Tahrir references are taken almost for granted. A movement born in a Muslim country is seen neither as threatening nor as exotic but simply as universal.

“I think Tahrir is an Arabic word, but that doesn’t make it a particularly Arab or Muslim thing,” said Daniel Kurfirst, a musician, after Muslims held Friday prayers in the park for the first time last week.
Progressive Muslim activists, many of them born in New York, have been coming to the park from the beginning. They said they hoped the prayers, organized by the Muslim Leadership Council of New York, would get more Muslims interested in the movement.

But they face ambivalence from their parents’ generation, from immigrants like Mr. Sami, the falafel chef.
It’s good to see Americans recognize that poverty is a problem, he said. But while Tahrir could be summed up in a few words — “Mubarak, leave!” — he found Occupy’s diffuse causes “confusing.” His coworker, who did not want to give his name, said the protesters were “not serious.”

Religion claims its place in Occupy Wall Street

BOSTON— Downtown Dewey Square is crammed with tents and tarps of Occupy Boston protesters, but organizers made sure from the start of this weeks-old encampment that there was room for the holy.

No shoes are allowed in the “Sacred Space” tent here, but you can bring just about any faith or spiritual tradition.

A day’s schedule finds people balancing their chakras, a “compassion meditation” and a discussion of a biblical passage in Luke. Inside, a Buddha statue sits near a picture of Jesus, while a hand-lettered sign in the corner points toward Mecca.

The tent is one way protesters here and in other cities have taken pains to include a spiritual component in their occupations. Still, Occupy Wall Street is not a religious movement, and signs of spiritually aren’t evident at all protest sites.

Religious imagery and events have been common since the protests began. In New York, clergy carried an Old Testament-style golden calf in the shape of the Wall Street bull to decry the false idol of greed. Sieradski organized a Yom Kippur service. About 70 Muslims kneeled to pray toward Mecca at a prayer service Friday.

Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, who helped organize Friday’s Muslim prayer service in New York, believes religious groups have already amplified the movement’s power. He sees his involvement as a duty, because so many in his congregation are affected by the nation’s economic woes.

“If Moses or Jesus or Mohammed were alive in this day and time they’d be out there guiding and inspiring and teaching these young people,” he said.