NYCLU files papers in NYPD Muslim surveillance lawsuit
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed papers yesterday as part of Handschu v. Special Services Division, the federal court case seeking to stop the NYPD from carrying out surveillance of Muslims.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has repeatedly defended the surveillance program. At a lecture to the Carnegie Council last September, Kelly said, “As a matter of Police Department policy, undercover officers and confidential informants do not enter a mosque unless they are following up on a lead vetted under Handschu.”
Kelly was referring to the Handschu guidelines, meant to insure that the police only monitor when there is a clear indication that the group or individual is committing or about to commit a crime.
Not so, said Shamiur Rahman, a Queens resident of Bangladeshi descent who was recruited as an informant by a plainclothes officer in January of last year.
In a declaration in the NYCLU papers filed yesterday, Rahman recounts being instructed by his NYPD handler “Steve” to “spy on members of the Muslim communities in New York” in “mosques and other locations.”
Rahman delivered photos to the NYPD of people worshipping at mosques, and “recorded cell phone numbers from the sign up sheet of people who attended Islamic instruction classes.”
He was also instructed to inform on the Muslim Students Association at John Jay College, where he “took pictures of people in the group and recorded the license plate numbers of their cars.”
NYPD handler “Steve” reportedly told Rahman the police did not suspect the MSA of any wrong-doing, “they just wanted to make sure.”
“According to my NYPD boss Steve,” Rahman said, “the NYPD considers being a religious Muslim a terrorism indicator.”
How the community copes
Muneer Awad at the Council on American-Islamic Relations said this on-going surveillance has created a culture of insecurity and anxiety among Muslim New Yorkers.
Awad said that students activists and people in Islamic centers “don’t feel as free speaking about issues.”
Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab-American Association of New York said in her declaration in the papers filed yesterday that a man once said to her, “I don’t know whether the guy praying next to me is an informer or not.”
She told him she “could not reassure him that people in the Mosque might not be informers.”
Awad pointed to this sentiment as indicative of the violation Muslim New Yorkers experience.
“You expect discussions with religious leaders to be confidential,” Awad insisted. “This isn’t happening in other communities, other communities wouldn’t tolerate it.”
Muneer Awad said he’s heard of recruiting attempts by the NYPD.
“A number of people… told us they felt like they were approached by members of law enforcement in an intimidating manner, suggesting they either work with law enforcement or deal with increased scrutiny from law enforcement,” Awad said.
He said such scrutiny could come in many forms, from being placed on no-fly lists, to trouble for family members in the process of obtaining citizenship.
Awad tries to tell these people they are under no legal obligation to comply, and that such pressure is “inconsistent with what our Constitution guarantees.”
Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne rejects these accusations, insisting that “the NYPD adheres to the Constitution in all it does, and specifically the Handschu guidelines in the deployment of undercover officers.”
Browne also noted that “terrorists have tried to attach New York City on 16 different occasions that we know of” since 9/11. According to Browne, the NYPD has foiled plots to attack the Brooklyn Bridge and the Federal Reserve Bank, and to kill American soldiers returning home to New York.
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