A renewed focus on counterterrorism efforts following the coordianted attacks in Paris by Islamic State extremeists has local Muslim communities and civil rights activists alike looking keeping an eye on the New York City Police Department.
Most observers agree that the tenor of the de Blasio adminisration and One Police Plaza under Commissioner Bill Bratton turned a corner from their predecessors handled the balance between privacy and public safety.
Fahd Ahmed, legal and policy director of the Queens-based DRUM South Asian Organizing Center, said he recognzied Bratton’d decision toshutter a controversial unit tasked with tracking the Muslim community during the Bloomberg administration following the Sept. 11 attacks.
“But we do know for a fact that the Police Department’s surveillance program is ongoing,” Ahmed said, pointing toa series of joint NYPD and FBI investigations into Islamic State-related activities makes it clear that New York City Muslims remain under the microscope.
Two women pleaded innocence in April in connection to a bomb plot that authorities said was Islamic State-inspired and discovered through an undercover FBI agent and a year-long investigation.
In August, one of three suspects arrested for an unrelated Brooklyn bomb plot pleaded guilty after FBI and NYPD said he attempted to aid the Islamic State’s efforts in the United States.
The security of all communities is important, Ahmed said, but so are civil liberties.
“These are basic freedoms,” he said, “core values that are especially important in this particular moment.”
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told Metro she remained optimistic about changes under Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio as they pursue the balance between safety and indivudal rights.
“It appears that the police department has not embraced the kind of dragnet approach that was so problematic in the past,” Lieberman said, in reference to extensive reproting on how NYPD officers would rely on informants and surveillance of area mosques.
On Tuesday, Bratton told reporters that he saw no link between his department’s ability to prevent possible attacks and his disbanding of the surveillance unit.
“We have thousands of Muslim employees in the department who, like the rest of us, are citizens of this country and are concerned so that there is an ability to keep a thumb on the pulse of what is going on out there,”Bratton said, according to Politico New York.
Mayor Bill de Blasio also blasted rhetoric from presidential candidate Donald Trump indicating the oft- Republican frontrunner he would “strongly consider” shutting down mosques “because some of the ideas and some the hatred…coming from these areas.”
De Blasio specifically attacked Trump’s criticism of the New York Police Department’s shutting down of NYPD’s demographic unit.
“Mosques don’t commit acts of terrorism — people do,” the mayor said in a statement, adding that NYPD will investigate crimes, not shut down places of religious worship.