Muslim leaders welcome NYPD surveillance changes with degree of skepticism

Leaders and advocates praise the NYPD's move to shut down a unit tied to its Muslim surveillance program but say there's more left to do.  Credit: Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Leaders and advocates praise the NYPD’s move to shut down a unit tied to its Muslim surveillance program but say there’s more left to do.
Credit: Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The decision to shutter the New York Police Department’s unit tasked with tracking the Muslim community was met with much political fanfare, with city leaders praising the decision as a victory for civil rights.

By Tuesday, however, advocates expressed a combination of relief and skepticism. While welcoming of the Police Departments efforts to work with the Muslim community, some members are waiting to see how those efforts take shape.

“News that Zone Assessment Unit is disbanded is welcomed,” said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, “but people are still skeptical. It will take years to roll back trauma that NYPD intelligence caused the American Muslim community.”

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Sarsour was among the community members at One Police Plaza with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence John Miller to discuss their department’s ongoing plans.

Sarsour said on Wednesday that the tone of conversation with police has shifted since Bratton took the top cop post in January.

“We went from unapologetic and defensive to cordial and open,” she explained, adding that there has been a “significant shift in tone” since former Commissioner Ray Kelly, who launched the unit, left office.

But the tone of the conversation is only part of the equation for groups that have spent the last few years fighting what they describe as NYPD’s unconstitutional targeting of the Muslim community.

“It may just be a symbolic step, but it is a step” said Fahd Ahmed, legal and police director of the Queens-based DRUM South Asian Organizing Center. “Our members are looking for substantial changes in policy.”

Ahmed detailed his group’s work to document their members’ interactions with the NYPD’s intelligence department, which oversaw the recently closed unit.

Many of the negative interactions with police, Ahmed said, weren’t with the Zone Assessment Unit but with officers in the broader intelligence program who he said attempt to recruit informants and follow individuals.

“Those activities are not coming from the demographics unit,” he said.

Sarsour added the Muslim community is still more than willing to work with the new administration towards tangible, meaningful and substantive change in policies and practices.

“The closing of the Zone Assessment Unit is the start,” she said. “The end is when the NYPD ends all unwarranted surveillance of Muslims.”

Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria


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