A group of prominent Muslim figures in New York City have said they will boycott an annual meeting on Friday with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in order to protest against police surveillance of their communities.
Bloomberg is scheduled to hold a multi-faith “Bagels with Bloomberg” breakfast with religious leaders from across the city on Friday morning, but the group has written to the mayor’s office outlining their reasons for refusing to attend.
In particular, the group says it is outraged at details that emerged earlier this year of a concerted effort by the New York police department to monitor activities of Muslims in New York. A series of reports by the Associated Press detailed the activities of a unit within the NYPD, called the Demographics Unit, that monitored daily life in Muslim communities, including eavesdropping in businesses and infiltrating mosques.
“According to the investigation, the police department monitored and collected information on New Yorkers at about 250 mosques, schools, and businesses throughout the city, simply because of their religion and not because they exhibited suspicious behavior,” the letter said.
It added: “Mayor Bloomberg, the extent of these civil rights violations is astonishing, yet instead of calling for accountability and the rule of law, you have thus far defended the NYPD’s misconduct. We, on the other hand, believe that such measures threaten the rights of all Americans, and deepen mistrust between our communities and law enforcement.”
The letter was signed by 15 prominent Muslim New Yorkers, including Khaled Lamada, head of the Muslim American Society, Omar Mohammedi, president of the Association of Muslim American Lawyers, Aisha al-Adawiya, founder of Women in Islam, and Iman Al Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, who president of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York.
Another signatory, Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab-American Association of New York, told the Guardian that the AP reports had confirmed her worst fears. “This confirmed what we already knew. It gave validity to our concerns that we are being spied upon just because of our religion. That undermines the security of all New Yorkers,” Sarsour said.
Sarsour added that lawsuits against the NYPD were being considered in the wake of the AP investigation, and called for an independent inquiry into the activities of the department when it came to monitoring Muslim communities.
So far, that call has fallen on deaf ears. Senior police figures have denied that they targeted Muslim communities in general, claiming they only followed leads. Bloomberg has also strongly and consistently backed the city’s police department and its tactics.
An investigation by the CIA had looked at its role in helping the NYPD and recently concluded no wrongdoing had taken place.
But Sarsour remained unsatisfied.
“How can someone from the CIA be the one to investigate the CIA? We are asking for an independent investigation,” she said, saying it should be carried out by the Department of Justice or a Congressional committee.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office downplayed the impact of the letter and the boycott, saying that other Muslim leaders were still planning on attending the breakfast gathering. “We have a couple dozen Muslim community leaders who have RSVP-ed that they will be at the breakfast, which is about the same as previous years,” said Stu Loeser.
NYPD officials also weighed into the spat, saying that the AP story had exaggerated its activities. “The NYPD lawfully follows leads in terrorist-related investigations and does not engage in the kind of wholesale spying on communities that was false alleged,” said Paul Browne, an NYPD deputy commissioner.
But the revelations about the Demographics Unit are not the only controversy surrounding NYPD actions around Muslim Americans and terrorism. An NYPD operation last month arrested a suspected “lone wolf” terrorist in the shape of New Yorker Jose Pimentel. NYPD officials hailed the arrest, which occurred after a lengthy undercover operation that saw an NYPD informant supply Pimental with bomb-making equipment, as a major triumph.
However, it later emerged that the FBI had passed on co-operating on the case, because it believed the target was not a viable threat. That has led to accusations that the NYPD “entrapped” Pimental.