The news that the New York City Police Department engaged in surveillance of Muslims, including in nearby Newark, New Jersey, while disturbing should come as no surprise considering the history of law enforcement in our country. It was not long ago when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), under J. Edgar Hoover, conducted its COINTELPRO program to undermine the rising advocacy of Black nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party. Like Hoover before him, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is justifying the police targeting Muslims in the name of “security.” Mayor Bloomberg has even gone so far as to defend the NYPD’s spying on members of the Muslim community in Newark on the basis that some of the terrorists from 9/11 came out of or was connected to individuals in New Jersey’s largest city.
We take issue with the characterization of a whole community as subversive and a potential threat. It only leads to breeding further suspicion of Muslims and provides a false sense of security built upon the violation of human rights. If casting a wide net were effective policy, then the same scrutiny should be applied to young white males given their preponderance in white supremacist groups that advocate the overthrow of our government, openly threaten violence against Blacks and who Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh considered ideological soul mates. Yet, we do not hear of police surveillance of white males and thankfully so. Muslims also should not face such scrutiny nor should they be burdened with the brand of terrorist.
A decade after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 our nation is still gripped by anti-Muslim hysteria. We see it in the operation of the New York City Police Department and in the words of political candidates who equate Islam with terror and Muslim with traitor. One would think given the history of violating human rights in our nation – the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, McCarthyism and COINTELPRO – we would have little patience for a return to those regretful days. Just the opposite seems to have occurred. We simply identified a new “enemy,” Muslims, and are using the latest available technology to violate their rights.
Regretfully, more Americans and particularly those in leadership positions are not up in arms over the NYPD spying on Muslims. We should all be offended. Perhaps it is human nature to be less concerned when the group with which you identify is not the target or the recipient of such abuse. Yet, common sense should suggest that a nation that so easily violates its principle of equal protection under the law is one in which any group, on any given day could be victimized in this way. As Americans we have a duty, a moral obligation to defend the rights of our neighbors who are unfairly targeted in this way.
The New York City Police Department is the largest, most sophisticated and well resourced local law enforcement agency in this country, and perhaps the world. We cannot accept that it does not have the capacity to devise other means than spying on innocent citizens and residents to maintain security. If this is standard operating procedure, we shudder to think what other groups and individuals are being watched. If this is what 9/11 has wrought, the terrorists have won.
We call upon the U.S. Department of Justice to take a close look at the New York City Police Department and to provide some guidelines as to the allowable limits for surveillance activity. No one should be cast under suspicion due to their religious beliefs.