Yesterday, the Associated Press published the latest in its series of investigative articles documenting the New York Police Department’s sweeping surveillance of Muslims in the years since the 9/11 attacks. The article provides new details of the NYPD’s unchecked religious profiling: informants known within the NYPD as “mosque crawlers” secretly infiltrated houses of worship throughout the city and as far afield as New Jersey in 2005 and 2006. This story is now all too familiar. The NYPD has reacted to the threat of future terrorism by casting a wide net of suspicion over entire communities based solely on their religious beliefs, race, or national origin.
The NYPD’s own documents show the predictable outcome: the mosque crawlers were spying on and documenting protected speech and activities of innocent people without any evidence of wrongdoing. For example, following a Danish newspaper’s publication of controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in September 2005, mosque crawlers eavesdropped and reported on local Muslims’ reactions. In a seven-page “intelligence report” prepared for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the informants documented that imams and community leaders urged congregants to demonstrate peacefully before consulates and the United Nations and to speak out non-violently against the cartoons. Informants were also tasked with secretly spying on Muslims’ reactions to a 2006 plane crash even after it was determined to be an accident. In a report prepared after that crash, which took the lives of New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, the NYPD’s mosque crawlers reported that imams and community members expressed relief that the crash was an accident and not an act of terrorism.
The latest AP story provides further evidence of the NYPD’s efforts to turn New York City and its surrounding areas into a surveillance state—one in which Muslims are suspect without any legitimate basis. And the accompanying police reports make clear that the NYPD is wasting law enforcement resources by engaging in crass religious profiling rather than investigating criminal activity. Moreover, these documents show that the NYPD is creating dossiers on individuals engaged in First Amendment-protected activities in the absence of any reason to believe such persons are engaging in unlawful conduct. This is a violation of court-imposed guidelines—known as the “Handschu guidelines”—to which the NYPD must adhere because of its long history of spying on and documenting constitutionally-protected political activities.
Mayor Bloomberg has repeatedly defended the NYPD. But the AP stories, based on the NYPD’s own documents, show that it is past time for the Mayor to stop defending the NYPD and start investigating its misconduct.