NYC City University Faculty: Stop Letting NYPD Spy On Muslim Students

By Sameer Rao Nov 02, 2015

Over 100 faculty members of the City of New York (CUNY) university system addressed a petition to CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken in protest of the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim students. 

The petition came this weekend, on the heels of a Gothamist report detailing one undercover officer’s false conversion to Islam as part of her surveillance efforts. According to the report, an officer (who worked under the moniker "Melike Ser," or "Mel") infiltrated the school’s Islamic Society group for over three years after professing a sincerity for conversion and insinuated herself with the group’s female members, even going so far as to attend at least two members’ bridal showers. Mel, however, asked provocative questions that made some members (quoted by Gothamist under pseudonymns) think that she was trying to entrap them into terror plots:

Shereen, then 25, and a close friend, Faizah, were responsible for introducing new converts like Mel to the basic tenets of Islam. One day in early April 2011, Mel asked Faizah to meet her on campus. “Faizah told me afterward that Mel asked her some strange questions, like, ‘What is all this about jihad?’” Shereen recalled. “And asking about people who do suicide bombing.”

For Shereen and Faizah, Mel’s questions were a red flag. They suspected she was digging for information on the political beliefs of [Islamic Society] members, possibly even pressing them to make incriminating statements.

The piece states that the case against Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, two Queens residents arrested in April for allegedly planning to build a bomb, confirmed some Islamic Society’s members to believe that their suspicions on Mel were correct.  

The CUNY faculty petition, which was linked to in a Huffington Post report (although the link was broken at press time), stated that the controversial surveillance efforts that the NYPD engaged with have lead to a chilling on thought around campus:

Such surveillance chills the atmosphere of free speech and open dialogue that educational institutions require, and it violates constitutional protections that require specific search warrants.

The officer’s actions suggest that the NYPD has also been circumventing a 1992 Memorandum of Understanding that says they cannot enter CUNY campuses in non-emergency contexts without the the permission of CUNY officials; at present, it is not apparent whether or not CUNY leaders knew about Mel. 

Overall, the information reported by Gothamist suggests that informant practices enacted after 9/11 to chill dissent and advocacy among Muslims are allive and well. 

(H/t Gothamist, Huffington Post