NYPD wrong to spy on Muslim students
Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Updated: Sunday, March 18, 2012 18:03
Imagine this: You are a typical Muslim student at Yale University who attends the meetings of a Muslim student group every week. It has been 11 years since a self-proclaimed Muslim committed a major terrorist attack on American soil. Little to your knowledge, however, an out-of-state police department has planted an informant within your student organization, across state lines and far outside its jurisdiction, in order to keep a record of what you say, what you do, where you go and who you talk to.
Does this story sound fictional or perhaps even a little ridiculous? Well, it is exactly the kind of operation the New York City Police Department conducted on Muslim students at university campuses across the Northeast. The Associated Press has revealed in a series of investigative reports that the NYPD has been spying using its intelligence division, sometimes outside New York’s city limits, as part of a surveillance program targeting Muslims. The NYPD has been conducting “Weekly [Muslim Student Association] Reports” highlighting all activities and events that the student groups held.
They also built databases to keep a record of American converts who chose to change their names to ones sounding Arabic. According to the Huffington Post, meetings and websites run by Muslim student groups at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers and 13 other colleges in the Northeast were constantly probed for information, which was then entered into a secret database.
The same article mentions that the NYPD even went as far as to send an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip with Muslim students to document all their conversations and the number of times each student prayed.
Though the NYPD says that they conducted the undercover operation in the same manner that the FBI would, therein lies one of the problems: The NYPD is not a federal agency, and some of its activities have gone far beyond what a city police department is permitted to do.
The other is the issue of profiling Muslim Americans simply because they are Muslim. Practicing Islam makes you no more likely to be a threat than someone who practices any other religion. Had it been other religious student groups that were being targeted, such a scandal would have been unacceptable and unlikely to have even occurred.
Sadly, this sort of un-American trampling of civil liberties seems commonplace in our day. The New York Times courageously wrote in a Sunday editorial that “today Muslims are the target. In the past it was protesters against the Vietnam War, civil rights activists, socialists. Tomorrow it will be another vulnerable group whose lawful behavior is blended into criminal activity.”
Fortunately, criticism of the NYPD has been coming in heavy. Yale President Richard Levin wrote, “in the strongest possible terms, 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 … Muslims and Islam itself have too often been the target of thoughtless stereotyping, misplaced fear, and bigotry.”
Rutgers University, Syracuse University, Columbia University, University of Buffalo, City College and others have released similar statements. Officials including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker have expressed their shock and have promised to launch investigations. FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Ward, who is in charge of the FBI in Newark, also stated his concerns that the NYPD’s extensive surveillance of Muslims jeopardize access to its communities.
Profiling and discrimination of Muslims is an upsetting cycle of modern America that does not draw nearly the amount of attention and protest that it should. Although it is reassuring that university and public officials have come to the defense of its Muslim student populations, law enforcement needs to make serious strides to pursue actual leads — within their jurisdictions — instead of imaginary ones based on Islamophobia.