The New York Police Department has spied on Muslim New Yorkers for no other reason than that they are Muslim, according to documents released today by the Associated Press. The story is the latest in the AP’s ongoing investigation of the NYPD’s program to target and surveil Muslims in the Northeastern United States and provides the clearest evidence to date that the police are engaged in systematic and official practices of racial and ethnic profiling.
The AP reports that in late 2007:
[P]lainclothes 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.
“This report will focus on the smaller Muslim community,” the report said.
Similarly, police excluded the city’s sizable Coptic Christian population when photographing, monitoring and eavesdropping on Egyptian businesses in 2007, according to the police files.
“This report does not represent the Coptic Egyptian community and is merely an insight into the Muslim Egyptian community of New York City,” the NYPD wrote.
Now, after claiming for months that the Demographics Unit did not exist and then, once exposed by the AP, that it only follows “legitimate leads”, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has admitted that the police had surveilled Muslims without particular suspicion of wrong-doing.
“When there’s no lead, you’re just trying to get familiar with what’s going on, where people might go and where people might be to say something,” Bloomberg said in a recent local radio interview, according to the AP. “And you want to listen. If they’re going to give a public speech, you want to know where they do it.”
Civil rights and civil liberties groups have called for a federal probe of the NYPD practices, which are carried out without federal or state oversight. Yesterday, after months of near silence from federal officials on the spying program, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress that the program raised concerns.
“At least what I’ve read publicly, and again, just what I’ve read in the newspapers, is disturbing,” Holder said while speaking yesterday before the Senate Appropriations Committee. “And these are things that are under review at the Justice Department.”
As Colorlines.com reported last week, the NYPD’s religious based spying program appears to do nothing to make the city safer. While the NYPD and Colorlines.com found that in fact, the NYPD had nothing to do with many of the plots. And those the police were engaged with involved questionable practices of entrapment in which the police concocted fake terrorist plots, convinced vulnerable young men to carry them out and then arrested the men while claiming victory in their pursuit of homegrown threats.