NYC Muslim Leaders Encourage Residents to Know Their Rights

After an investigation found that the NYPD had infiltrated hundreds of Muslim mosques to spy on civilians, community leaders are people to be careful.

By Jorge Rivas Nov 15, 2011

Leaders in New York City’s Muslim community are warning people to be watchful of potential undercover NYPD and FBI informants. So they’re holding teach-in’s to help members of the community diagnose the problem and understand their rights.

Insiders say the government’s surveillance efforts are certain to further strain relations between NYPD and the Muslims in the city. The Associated Press is reporting that Muslim community leaders are openly teaching people how to identify police informants, encouraging them to always talk to a lawyer before speaking with the authorities, and reminding people already working with law enforcement that they have the right to change their minds.

The news comes after the AP released an investigation that revealed the NYPD dispatched plainclothes officers to eavesdrop in Muslim communities. The report found hundreds of mosques and restaurants were infiltrated to build a database on what the department later called "daily life inside Muslim neighborhoods."

In a story published Monday, the AP describes some methods being used in the teach-in’s:

At a recent "Know Your Rights" session for Brooklyn College students, someone asked why Muslims who don’t have anything to hide should avoid talking to police.

"Most of the time it’s a fishing expedition," answered Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York. "So the safest thing you can do for yourself, your family and for your community, is not to answer."

A recently distributed brochure from the City University of New York Law School warns people to be wary when confronted by someone who advocates violence against the U.S., discusses terror organizations, is overly generous or is aggressive in their interactions. The brochure said that person could be a police informant.

"Be very careful about involving the police," the brochure said. "If the individual is an informant, the police may not do anything … If the individual is not an informant and you report them, the unintended consequences could be devastating."

Muslim communities nationwide have faced a increased amounts of surveillance since 9/11. In a story published in September, Asraa Mustufa wrote about Muslims in Irvine, California whose communities were being infiltrated by FBI and CIA informants. The policies that allow the agencies to conduct undercover surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods are sanctioned by the Obama administration. To make matters even worse, the administration strengthened a national security provision that makes it nearly impossible for communities and individuals to protect their rights through lawsuits after they’ve been infiltrated. Mustufa explained on Colorlines:

The provision, known as the state secrets privilege, permits the government to block discovery in a lawsuit of any information that, if disclosed, could adversely affect national security or foreign relations.

During his first presidential campaign, Barack Obama vowed to end the type of undercover surveillance that Muslim communities around the country are now dealing with. Of course, that didn’t happen. But not only did it not happen, government surveillance and the legal mechanisms to protect is has reached nearly unprecedented levels.