Muslim community members do not feel comfortable in their own mosques after finding out about NYPD surveillance, according to a new report released today.
Groups like the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund released the report at 1 Police Plaza today, accusing the NYPD of spying on the religious, political and community lives of the Muslim community, which they said “creates a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion that encroaches upon every aspect of American Muslims’ lives.”
A series of Associated Press reports revealed that the NYPD collects documents about Muslims in New York – and even outside the state – that many say are wrongfully spying on the community.
"This report is critically important reading for all Americans concerned with freedom, justice, and equality in 21st century America,” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, who chairs the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York. “It is the authentic voice of real people impacted by unjust policies and procedures.”
The group said it interviewed 57 Muslim Americans, many of which attended mosques or owned businesses that were directly mentioned in leaked NYPD documents.
One chaplain for a Muslim group said that the week the Associated Press report came out, students avoided the prayer room.
“They felt they couldn’t meet in their own space,” he said. “The idea of being surveilled, for a 19 or 20 year old, is a terrifying thing.”
The report also notes that interviewees felt they could not grow a beard or wear a hijab, because they feared attracting police attention.
And many mentioned being more careful with their words in religious spaces.
“I have to think twice about the sentences I say just in case someone can come up with a different meaning to what I’m saying,” one 22-year-old Sunday school teacher told researchers.
The NYCLU has blasted the surveillance and filed a lawsuit to try and stop it.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have defended the program, saying that police officers only follow leads. Last year, Bloomberg blamed the media for the uproar.
"The NYPD protects the rights of all New Yorkers and has made certain both its counterterrorism and intelligence programs and procedures pass constitutional muster," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in a statement today. He added that "misinformation" has been "spewed inaccurately and unfairly against police protecting all New Yorkers."
"The NYPD has been involved, along with our federal partners, in thwarting very real plots against the city since 9/11," Browne said. "At the same time, we respect and protect individual rights, including religious liberty."
Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter: @reporteralison