A recent Associated Press report that revealed that Muslim students at several East Coast universities were the targets of investigation by the New York Police Department has sparked outrage within the civil rights community.
“This is abject lawlessness by the NYPD and the latest in a long line of revelations about the NYPD’s civil rights abuses,” Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, told India-West.
Buttar noted that New York’s police force had acted far outside their jurisdiction by investigating Muslim students at campuses as far away as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. The students being investigated had shown no probable cause or committed suspicious activity, he asserted, noting that there was no oversight into NYPD activities.
The BORDC has joined with other civil rights organizations who are demanding New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s resignation. Additionally, said Buttar, the New York City Council needs to pass a series of reforms limiting what law enforcement officials can do.
In a report dated Feb. 18, the AP – using documents it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request – reported that Muslim student associations at several East Coast campuses, including Yale, Rutgers, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, were being monitored daily online, primarily through their Web sites, blogs and even e-mails.
In one instance, an NYPD agent accompanied several New York University students on a whitewater rafting trip, recording conversations into the students’ files and instances of praying during the day-long trip.
Secret “MSA” reports were prepared weekly by NYPD agents for review by Kelly. The AP posted one weekly MSA report online, signed by NYPD Officer Mahmood Ahmad, which detailed Muslim student events at 12 college campuses.
Tariq Hussain, who attended Rutgers University from 2000 to 2008 for undergraduate work and law school, told India-West he was both shocked and outraged by the revelation.
“The NYPD was doing surveillance on people who were doing nothing at all,” said Hussain. “It is shocking to me that the Constitution was completely ignored by the police. This is not even close to being legal,” he said.
Hussain, now a corporate attorney, said he was not aware that surveillance of Muslim students was occurring at his campus. “I’m shocked and outraged, but this doesn’t surprise me.”
“We consider ourselves Americans, but we’re not seen that way by law enforcement officials,” said Hussain. At a Feb. 21 press conference, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg remained unapologetic about the NYPD’s actions. “We have to keep this country safe. This is a dangerous place. Make no mistake about it,” said Bloomberg.
“It’s very cute to go and blame everybody and say we should stay away from anything that smacks of intelligence gathering. The job of our law enforcement is to make sure that they prevent things. And you only do that by being proactive,” said the mayor.
“You have to respect people’s right to privacy. You have to obey the law. And I think police officers across this country, federal level, state level, city level do that.”
Interestingly, Bloomberg correlated intelligence gathering by the NYPD to protecting the rights of the media. "You are not going to survive. You will not be able to be a journalist and write what you want to say if the people who want to take away your freedoms are allowed to succeed," Bloomberg asserted.
“It’s interesting that spying on Muslim students protects freedom of the press,” Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council of American Islamic Relations, told India-West.
“This is sending a chilling impact through the Muslim American community – that you can be investigated just for breathing while Muslim – and it’s designed to have that impact,” said Hooper.
CAIR has also called for Commissioner Kelly to step down and has asked for a complete investigation of NYPD activities with regards to the Muslim American community.
Yale president Richard Levin said the university's police department did not participate in any monitoring by the NYPD and that the university was unaware of surveillance activities. "I am writing to state, in the strongest possible terms, that police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States," Levin said in a statement.
The Rutgers University Muslim Student Association also issued a press release decrying the spying by the NYPD. “We are outraged at this violation of civil and legal rights. There is absolutely no justification in religiously profiling university students who attend this institution to attain intellectual liberation and positively contribute to American society,” said the statement.
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