Last week the U.S. District Court dismissed a long-standing case against the NYPD for their secret surveillance of Muslims in New York and New Jersey in the years after 9/11. Yet few Americans outside of the American Muslim community spoke out against the judgment, and not all newspapers carried the news. For the average American of a different faith, this wasn’t really too newsworthy. Here’s why they are wrong.
Firstly, secret surveillance of an entire racial of religious group of people with no previous criminal record goes against a host of laws. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the NYPD intelligence division spied on dozens of New Jersey mosques, restaurants, and stores, as well as two Muslim grade schools and two Muslim student associations since 2002. The department used “rakers” and “crawlers” in Muslim neighborhoods, infiltrating religious and civic groups, as well as setting up video surveillance and mapping neighborhoods’ ethnic makeups. Would this be acceptable if the group under surveillance was Jewish, black or anyone else? But because they are Muslims, there is a sense of disassociation that allows us to turn a blind eye to what could be serious illegalities by the NYPD.
Secondly, the case was dismissed because the judge decided that the plaintiff’s complaints were due not to the NYPD’s actions but as a direct result of the Pulitzer Prize winning expose by the Associated Press. Imagine if NSA’s secret monitoring of Americans was dismissed due to the same technicality. The media is an important ally in exposing deceit and dishonesty, even criminal activity in every sphere of life, so dismissing a case because of media exposure deals a serious blow to our free society.
Thirdly, the broader public should care about this case because of the far-reaching ramifications it promises. It gives license to law enforcement and other government agencies to go against established constitutional procedures and infringe on the rights of the very people they should be protecting. The NYPD has long used less than savory actions, and the disease is likely to spread to other law enforcement departments in other cities if we keep silent.
The Christian Science Monitor explained NYPD’s track record thus:
Judge Martini’s dismissal of their case highlighted, once again, America’s ongoing grappling with a clash of civic values – the “security versus liberty” conundrum in a post-9/11 world. But it also brought attention to the NYPD’s more-than-a-decade-long history of aggressive investigative tactics and to the politically charged question of how far the state may go in pursuing broad-based, blanket surveillance of a community to preempt possible, rather than actual, criminal and terrorist activities.
Most importantly, this case sets a very dangerous precedent about religious freedom and civil liberties, one that all Americans should worry about. Arjun Sethi, a lawyer in Washington and a frequent commentator on civil rights and social justice-related issues, explains on CNN the reasons why in better terms than I could:
Still, it’s not just Muslims who should be troubled by the court’s decision. It’s every American, for in its faulty reasoning, the court has also diminished the U.S. Constitution. Consider an example. What if the NYPD had mapped the state’s African-American population to stop criminal activity in that community? The practice would be denounced and defeated in a court of law. Why then, is religious surveillance tolerated? Race and religion both have a storied role in American history, and both are afforded similar protection under the U.S. Constitution.
When will we all stand up for the rights of each other?
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.