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NYPD Muslim Surveillance Report Details 'Collateral Damage' Of Program (UPDATE)

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NYPD MUSLIM SURVEILLANCE
Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid speaks to reporters after delivering a copy of "Mapping Muslims" to NYPD headquarters at 1 Police Plaza on Monday, March 11, 2013. | Matt Sledge

NEW YORK -- A coalition of Muslim groups delivered a new report on the NYPD's surveillance program to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's doorstep on Monday, hoping to put pressure on the department a day before its annual budget hearing.

The report, based on interviews with 57 Muslims in New York, details the life of a religious community under police suspicion. It was prepared by the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project.

"They have repeatedly said that as long as you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear," said Diala Shamas, a fellow at CLEAR who co-authored the report, called "Mapping Muslims." To the contrary, she said, the study "shows that there are many disturbing impacts and consequences of the irresponsible, costly, harmful, completely ineffective surveillance program."

As a series of reports from the Associated Press revealed, the NYPD's program entailed pervasive surveillance of the Muslim community in New York City and beyond. Undercover officers and informants visited mosques, attempted to incite political discussions, and even went on whitewater rafting trips with Muslim student groups.

Fear of the surveillance program, the authors of the report said, percolates down to the very personal level. College groups now forbid discussion of politics, religious Muslims avoid going to mosque, and ordinary people hold their tongues for fear of making the wrong kinds of jokes, since any stranger could be a spy.

"I grew up here ... thinking that the NYPD were checkpoints of safety," said Soheeb Amin, a student who was formerly the president of the Islamic Society at Brooklyn College. "I go to them, they smile, they direct me back to my parents if I ever got lost … as I grew older, as the beard started coming in, the smiles started fading."

The authors of the report conclude it by asking the NYPD to dismantle its surveillance program and the City Council to establish an inspector general with oversight authority for the department.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm, a Democrat who represents the heavily Muslim neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, called the report "very important evidence" at the Monday press conference announcing its release.

"All Americans should be concerned," he said. "The policing that's going on now encourages mistrust or distrust within the Muslim community. It is not good policing."

His colleague on the council, Park Slope Democrat Brad Lander, told HuffPost that he was planning to ask Kelly tough questions about the surveillance program during a budget hearing on Tuesday.

The NYPD has spent over $1 billion on the Intelligence Division that conducts the surveillance program over the past decade, but "there's not that much to show for it," Lander said, pointing to an admission from a top-ranking officer that the spying program has never produced a lead.

In the meantime, he said, "as the report that's out today shows, there's a lot of collateral damage."

Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, the head of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York, delivered a copy of the report to an officer at the NYPD's headquarters.

UPDATE: 7:19 p.m. -- NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne issued a statement:

The NYPD protects the rights of all New Yorkers and has made certain both its counterterrorism and intelligence programs and procedures pass constitutional muster, specifically in regard to the Handschu accord. Incidentally, a New York City police detective on the JTTF was the lead detective in the investigation of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Bin Laden’s son-in-law, who was arraigned last week in Manhattan Federal court. The NYPD has been in involved, along with our Federal partners, in thwarting very real plots against the city since 9/11, and in identifying individuals in the region – including New Jersey - who have provided material support to foreign terrorist organizations. At the same time we respect and protect individual rights, including religious liberty. We are also the most diverse police department in the world, which includes a Muslim Officers Society as well as other fraternal organizations compromised of South Asian police officers.

Browne recommended reading a speech Kelly made in March 2012, "which addresses much of the misinformation that has been and continues to be spewed inaccurately and unfairly against police protecting all New Yorkers."

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