LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

NYPD’s Muslim Surveillance Leads to N.Y. v. N.J. Feud

By Adele Sammarco for NewJerseyNewsroom.com

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is said to be furious with the New York City Police Department for what he describes as over-stepping their jurisdiction by spying on New Jersey’s Muslims, so much he’s asked his own Attorney General, Jeffrey Chiesa, to look into the matter.

And not only were New Jersey educational institutions targeted such as Rutgers in New Brunswick, but New York Police monitored several New Jersey mosques, Muslim student organizations and Muslim businesses.

Late Friday, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he would not be pursing an investigation into the matter as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly continued to defend the actions of the NYPD.

In a radio interview Friday, Bloomberg insisted the police haven’t done anything wrong.

“They are permitted to travel beyond the borders of NYC to investigate cases,” he said. “They can look at websites they can watch television to detect unlawful activities or where there might be unlawful activities to get leads. We don’t target individuals based on race or religion. We follow leads and we are consistent, I think, with the guidelines resulting from the Handschu federal court decision.”

According to the Village Voice, the Handschu decree stems from a 1971 lawsuit by political activists who were subjected to NYPD surveillance. In 1985, a federal judge resolved the case by instituting a set of binding guidelines where police could only conduct surveillance of political groups if there was suspected unlawful activity, but even back then, police needed a warrant from a special commission.

Both Kelly and Bloomberg have received dozens of letters in protest of such surveillance from Muslim groups and civil rights advocacy organizations who demanded an investigation.

“While we share some of the serious concerns raised in the letter, there are significant legal and investigative obstacles that impede our ability to launch a review of the matter at this time,” said attorney general spokesman Danny Kanner, according to CNN.

Both Christie and Newark Mayor Corey Booker called the NYPD probe in their state, “deeply offensive”.

But NYPD Commissioner Kelly told reporters Friday his department is taking a proactive role saying, “We’re doing what we have to do to protect the city.”

“I’ve received some letters asking some questions,” Kelly stated. “I also receive letters of support, so there’s not one consistent opinion, if you will. I think we have a good working relationship with the Muslim community in the city.”

Muslim groups denounced Schneiderman’s decision, saying it had hoped the official, “would have had the moral courage to do the right thing and uphold the civil rights of Muslims, many of whom have been spied on by their police force simply because of their faith, not based on any wrongdoing.”

In 2007, the NYPD’s Demographics Unit surveilled Newark, photographing every mosque and eavesdropping in on several Muslim businesses.

The findings were compiled in a 60-page report obtained by The Associated Press, which served as a police guidebook to Newark’s Muslims, yet there was no mention of terrorism or any criminal wrongdoing.

Booker as well as Newark’s current and former police directors said they were all misled by the NYPD saying they were only asked a limited number of questions, and were never told the depth or breadth of the planned investigation.

“If anyone in my police department had known this was a blanket investigation of individuals based on nothing but their religion, that strikes at the core of our beliefs and my beliefs very personally, and it would have merited a far sterner response.” Booker told The AP.

Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio, who was deputy chief of the department at the time, admitted the NYPD did ask to be shown around the city, but added New York police said it was part of an investigation and never revealed what it was about.

“I would just be curious as to who was briefed. Because from what I have from our intelligence unit, no one in our intelligence unit was briefed,” DeMaio said according to the Star Ledger, “No one in our intelligence unit was given a copy of that document.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, police have built extensive databases showing where Muslims live, where they buy groceries, what internet cafes they use, where they watch sports and what restaurants they frequent.

Dozens of mosques and student groups have been infiltrated, and police have built detailed profiles of local ethnic groups, from Egyptians and Albanians to Moroccans.

Since the days of 911, the NYPD’s intelligence unit has operated outside its jurisdiction and has worked to keep tabs on Muslims across the Northeast with the aid of the CIA, cataloging Muslim communities in Long Island as well as in New Jersey.

However in 2007, Christie, who was New Jersey’s United States Attorney, said he does not remember the NYPD ever approaching him about surveillance in Newark or even a threat that would justify it.

“The NYPD has at times developed a reputation of asking forgiveness rather than permission,” said Christie.

The documents obtained by the AP show just how widespread the NYPD’s intelligence-gathering efforts expanded beyond the department’s jurisdiction.

Similar police investigations were conducted in Long Island’s Suffolk and Nassau counties, according to police records as well as in New Jersey.

The report left Newark Muslims grasping for explanations as photographs of their mosques and businesses emerged in police files.

Some Muslim students even wondered if they should participate in prayer services, fearing they would be monitored by police.