Asad Dandia found out last year that a man he considered a friend was actually an NYPD informant hired to spy on Dandia because he’s Muslim. Today, Dandia joined with other Muslim New Yorkers and civil liberties groups at One Police Plaza in Manhattan to announce a lawsuit against New York City and the NYPD. They allege that the NYPD engaged in unconstitutional practices that singled out Muslims for profiling and surveillance. The plaintiffs say that the program has lasting and damaging effects on the day-to-day lives of Muslims in New York who fear they’re spied on for no reason but their faith.
Dandia, who is 20 and a social work student at Kingsborough Community College, explained at the press conference that he was the co-founder of a charitable group called Muslims Giving Back, and that in March of last year, a man named Shamiur Rahman approached him to say that he’d like to help. Dandia became close to Rahman, inviting him at times to eat meals with his parents and sister at their home in Brooklyn. Then, in October, Rahman went public about his work as an informant. In an Associated Press story, Rahman said he now believes his work for the NYPD was "detrimental to the Constitution." The AP, which revealed the surveillance program in 2011, reported last year that:
Informants like Rahman are a central component of the NYPD’s wide-ranging programs to monitor life in Muslim neighborhoods since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Police officers have eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses, trained video cameras on mosques and collected license plates of worshippers. Informants who trawl the mosques – known informally as "mosque crawlers" – tell police what the imam says at sermons and provide police lists of attendees, even when there’s no evidence they committed a crime.
Today, Dandia struggled to hold back tears as he described the impact of that revelation. "I was afraid for my parents because this guy slept over at my home," he said, adding that since the informant made his identify public, Muslims Giving Back has struggled to raise money, and the group was asked not to hold meetings or fundraise at a Brooklyn mosque where it had been based.
The suit, filed by the ACLU, New York Civil Liberties Union, and the CLEAR Project, a City University of New York-based legal advocacy group, alleges that the NYPD’s vast program to spy on Muslims in New York and surrounding areas violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause by targeting communities solely on the basis of religion. The groups also claim the program violates the plaintiffs’ freedom of religion. They’re asking the court to enjoin the practices outright and impose an independent, court appointed monitor to enforce the injunction. Other plaintiffs in the case include New York imams and mosques.
The NYPD and City of New York have claimed that the spying program, once called the Demographic Unit, only followed legitimate leads. But a high-ranking NYPD official said in court proceedings in a separate lawsuit that the unit has uncovered no actual plots of violence. Instead, the plaintiffs say, it has struck fear into Muslim communities.