10/24/2013 11:02 am ET Updated Oct 24, 2013

DOJ Pressured To Probe New York's Muslim Spying Program

A coalition of more than 120 organizations is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the New York City Police Department's surveillance of American Muslims.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder told members of Congress in early 2011 that the DOJ was looking into the NYPD's practice of spying on Muslims. But there have been few updates from the DOJ since, and it's unclear if it opened a formal investigation into the police department's activites.

Spokespeople for Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.), both of whom have pressured the DOJ to conduct an investigation, said that despite repeated queries, they have not heard whether an investigation has been or will be opened.

In a letter sent to the DOJ Thursday, the coalition contends that the program has "far-reaching, deeply negative effects on Muslims' constitutional rights by chilling speech and religious practice and harming religious goals and missions."

“The NYPD’s unconstitutional mapping and surveillance of American Muslims is religious, racial, and ethnic discrimination at its worst,” Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau, said in a statement. “Just as the Civil Rights Division has investigated and sanctioned police departments for biased profiling based on race and ethnicity, it should investigate the NYPD for profiling based on religion.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Advocates, Desis Rising Up and Moving, and the NAACP are among the groups who signed the letter.

It is addressed to Jocelyn Samuels, the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the DOJ's civil rights division, which typically would investigate the allegations described in the letter. It urges the division to determine whether the NYPD engaged in "a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers ... that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States."

Despite an outcry from Muslim groups, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city elected officials have been generally supportive of the NYPD. Mayoral front runner Bill de Blasio has criticized some aspects of the surveillance program, but has not committed to ending it.

Muslim and civil liberties groups have instead filed federal lawsuits in New Jersey and in New York City, even reviving an unresolved decades-old case over limiting the police department's surveillance of political activities. Leaks about the department's activities also have continued; an Associated Press report in August said the department has designated entire mosques as terrorist organizations.

The DOJ has not responded to a request for comment for this story.


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