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Yet Another AP Report Is Released on NYPD Spying on Muslims

The release of “newly obtained documents” that clearly show the New York Police Department engaged in ethnic profiling and explicitly targeted Muslims seems to have become a weekly event. Each week, the Associated Press has some “secret files” that make it even more clear how illicit the acts of the NYPD were in the surveillance of communities. And each week Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and others come out and defend the spying as necessary.

Today, the AP has released a story on documents they say “spell out in the clearest terms yet that the police were monitoring people based on religion.”

One may have thought that was pretty clear based on previous stories about surveillance of Muslim students at colleges and universities and businesses in Newark, New Jersey. But the “secret files” the AP obtained do contain some of the most obvious indications that the NYPD’s operations only intended to profile Muslims.

From the published story:

In late 2007, however, plainclothes officers in the department’s secretive Demographics Unit were assigned to investigate the region’s Syrian population. Police photographed businesses and eavesdropped at lunch counters and inside grocery stores and pastry shops. The resulting document listed no threat. And though most people of Syrian heritage living in the area were Jewish, Jews were excluded from the monitoring. [emphasis added]

That is not the only example of the NYPD excluding a group. The police department also “excluded the city’s sizable Coptic Christian population when photographing, monitoring and eavesdropping on Egyptian businesses in 2007.” Police wrote, “This report does not represent the Coptic Egyptian community and is merely an insight into the Muslim Egyptian community of New York City.”

As the AP story emphasizes, these Syrian Muslims being monitored were mostly second and third-generation Americans.

Documents on NYPD spying have been coming out on a regular basis for months now. Every time a new story has come out, Bloomberg and Kelly either have denied the police are engaged in such operations or they have tried to excuse the operations by saying that this is what must be done to prevent terrorism.

Beyond containing clear indications that entire communities had their privacy violated, the operations are also an example of shoddy police work. The NYPD sometimes got the religion of people they were monitoring wrong. In this latest story, the AP notes Syrians perceived to be Muslims were actually Catholics. (But, of course, if you’re brown, you probably don’t belong in this town so the NYPD relied on gut instinct or prejudice and logged information on these Syrians in their report on the community.)

Mayor Bloomberg has pathologically lied about the nature of the operations. In December, according to the AP, he said, “The communities, whether they’re Muslim or Jewish or Christian or Hindu or Buddhist or whatever, all contribute to this city. We don’t target any one of them. We don’t target any neighborhood.” These reports focus on ethnicity. They focus on the religion of people who are of a specific ethnicity.

Calls for a federal investigation into NYPD surveillance have been steadily building thanks to the fine, award-winning investigative journalism of the Associated Press. And, yesterday, the New York Times published an editorial on the “NYPD and Muslims.”

The editorial highlights how Bloomberg, Kelly and former Mayor Ed Koch have all been dismissive of criticism of the NYPD’s spying on Muslim communities. It points out that the conservative Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie (whose name is omitted), has spoken out against the surveillance operations of police. The mayor of Newark, (Cory A. Booker, whose name is also omitted), Muslim public figures and “leaders of universities where surveillance occurred” are also highlighted. FBI criticism is then noted.

All of this concludes with a largely innocuous call to Kelly and others to stop being so loud when defending the NYPD so that critics of the NYPD are not “drowned” out. That is all the editors at the NYT saw fit to print. Nothing about the necessity of a federal investigation or anything about accountability can be found in the editorial. The editors impotently suggest that Bloomberg, Kelly and others listen because the people upset by the NYPD’s spying have a right to be outraged.

Here is an example of an editorial that the NYT’s editorial should have more closely resembled. In The Nation‘s most recent issue, the magazine’s editors ask if anyone can rein in the NYPD’s spies. Highlighting the fact that at least some part of the spying has been funded by federal money intended to be used to fight drugs, the following call to action is made:

So far, the White House has been unresponsive. The AP has reported that it claims “no control” over and “no opinion” on the HIDTA program, or its use to spy on ordinary Muslims. Nor does Congress, which approves funding, have details.

So where’s the outrage? Outside Washington there is plenty, particularly on campuses and in affected communities, where news of the spying has had a chilling effect. This must be channeled into activism, pressuring not only the Obama administration but local officials on whose watch these violations took place—and may still be occuring. How elected leaders respond will speak volumes about whether their commitment to protecting the country extends to protecting the rights of Americans—all Americans—regardless of their ethnicity or faith.

While the editorial never explicitly calls for a federal probe, it highlights how this corruption probably extends from The Bronx to Washington, DC. It at least calls for something more than Bloomberg, Kelly and Koch shutting up for a moment so everyone can hear what people don’t like about the NYPD’s surveillance program.

Oddly, the NYT leaves out Representative Peter King, who could have used a terse finger-wagging. King and the narrator of the “Third Jihad” documentary, which warns against what creators of the film believe to be the threat of Islamist terrorism, were recently at NYPD headquarters to show support for ethnic profiling conducted by police.

Narrator Zuhdi Jasser called out “grievance mongering groups” and said it is “quite offensive” to many Muslims to see headlines like “American Muslims Upset with NYPD” because these “are all collectivist mindsets that say that all Muslims believe we are afraid of the police and that’s just not true.” It was just another instance where King exploited Muslims to advance his bigoted agenda and beliefs.

In conclusion, the NYPD is not just a corrupt police institution that targets Muslims. It is also a corrupt police institution willing to go after officers who blow the whistle on crime stats manipulation. It is a corrupt police institution willing to force individuals who speak out into psychiatric wards. It is an enterprise that has no problem investigating allegations and then keeping secret reports showing such individuals are not crazy. And it is also a crooked organization with officers, who obstruct and violate freedom of the press, infringe on privacy by racially profiling New York residents through the practice of stop and frisks, and arbitrarily arrest Occupy Wall Street participants exercising their First Amendment rights.

The NYPD increasingly functions like a criminal enterprise. It doesn’t only deserve to be investigated for spying on Muslims, butt also deserves to be the subject of a widespread federal investigation that implicates every single major officer in the department, including Commissioner Ray Kelly.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."