In February, federal Judge William J. Martini of the United States District Court of Newark accepted most if not all of the government’s arguments and dismissed a lawsuit alleging surveillance targeting Muslims explicitly was unconstitutional.
Martini refused to accept the surveillance that took place by the NYPD had caused any suffering to the eight Muslim plaintiffs, who alleged harm. He also embraced a twisted argument that had been advanced by the government. He accepted it was the Associated Press, which had published stories based on confidential documents revealing NYPD surveillance, that was to blame if any real harm or suffering had occurred.
The genesis began in January 2002, when the NYPD chose to develop a secret surveillance program to map out Muslim communities in New York and nearby areas. The decision occurred in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001.
In 2012, AP published reports which revealed the NYPD had built databases on Muslim-owned businesses and places of worship. A surveillance operation had produced “demographic maps” of Long Island, New York, and Newark, New Jersey. The Newark Police Department worked with the NYPD.
CCR subsequently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a “broad group of American Muslims from a variety of backgrounds – including a decorated Iraq war soldier and the former principal of a grade school for Muslim girls,” who had been “subjected to invasive spying.”
In the appeal, CCR and Muslim Advocates argue that the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims “impermissibly and intentionally discriminates” against the plaintiffs on the basis of their religion in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
Their First Amendment rights are also violated because the surveillance is “neither neutral with respect to religion, nor of general applicability. The Program instead singles out plaintiffs’ religion for disfavor and intentionally.”
What CCR and Muslim Advocates seeks is an injunction that requires the NYPD not to target the plaintiffs on the basis of their religion. They also request the expungement of records, “which are the fruits of the defendant’s unconstitutional actions and which falsely identify the Plaintiffs as linked to the threat of terrorism.”
It is argued in the appeal that the NYPD’s surveillance program was founded and operated upon a “false and constitutionally impermissible premise: that Muslim religious identity is a legitimate criterion for selection of law enforcement surveillance targets.” Thus, any Muslim individual, business or institution can be placed under “pervasive surveillance” that no other individuals, businesses and institutions of other religious faiths have to endure.
Furthermore, the nature of the program ensures that Muslims will not be treated equally by police.
“By targeting Muslim entities and individuals in New Jersey for investigation solely because they are Muslim or believed to be Muslim, the Program casts an unwarranted shadow of suspicion and stigma on Plaintiffs and, indeed, all New Jersey Muslims,” the appeal suggests.
“Each Plaintiff has suffered from the stigmatization that results from being singled out for surveillance on the basis of their religious beliefs, which is a harm that invites additional prejudice and discrimination against them and all American Muslims.”
What is known is that the NYPD specifically targeted mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, Muslim Student Associations and Muslim schools. CCR and Muslim Advocates believe this “perpetuates odious and unfounded stereotypes about Muslims, including Plaintiffs, and stigmatizes them as members of a disfavored community that is inherently dangerous and inferior.”
Methods of spying have included video recording, photographing and even infiltration of locations in Muslim communities. They have planted informants and “monitored websites, listservs and chat rooms.”
One of the plaintiffs, Zaimah Abdur-Rahim, is a math teacher at Al Hidaayah Academy. She was the principal of Al Muslimaat Academy, which is a “school for girls grades five through twelve.” She held this position from 2002 to 2010.
The NYPD took photographs and conducted surveillance of both of these schools. What legitimate law enforcement purpose does targeting a girls school serve?
Noted in the appeal is the fact that Abdur-Rahim is concerned about the spying on Al Muslimaat Academy because “she and the all-female population of students there did not wear head coverings while attending classes.”
“One of Abdur-Rahim’s and her students’ most sacred religious tenets is modesty, their practice of which requires them to always keep their heads covered in the presence of men or boys. If NYPD officers entered the property surrounding the school and looked inside – for example to determine that it was attended by African Americans as reported – they would be violating this religious tenet.”
Photo by Sean MacEntee under creative commons license