Associated Press — A coalition of New Jersey-based Muslim and civil rights groups is asking Gov. Chris Christie to investigate reports of secret surveillance of Muslim communities by the New York Police Department.
Sixteen New Jersey organizations have signed a letter asking the governor to investigate the extent of the surveillance in New Jersey and whether local law enforcement agencies were involved.
But Gov. Chris Christie suggested Thursday through a spokesman that it would not be “appropriate” for his office to conduct an investigation and he would, instead, forward the request to the state prosecutor’s office.
“Whether it is something to be investigated by New Jersey authorities is left to agencies like the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office,” spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an email. “I say the above without making any judgments about the allegations. We forward such requests for investigation to the AG’s Office.”
Drewniak confirmed that the governor’s office had received the letter.
The letter cites a series of stories by The Associated Press that detailed the monitoring or recommended surveillance of Muslims in New York and surrounding states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, by the NYPD.
Signatories to the letter, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the American Arab Forum and the Council of Shia Professionals, among other groups, noted that the surveillance plans detailed in the reports point to violations both of New Jersey law and the civil rights of law abiding residents.
“The seriousness of this problem cannot be overstated,” the letter to Christie said. “Given the trust the Muslim community has built with your office through your engagement with these communities and public stance against “overreacting” to the threat of terror and painting “all of Islam” with the brush of terrorism, we are contacting you with our concerns.”
The groups asked Christie to press the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the NYPD’s actions, and for the governor to explain to Muslim residents the extent of the NYPD’s activities in New Jersey.
“We are very upset with the NYPD’s spying efforts, especially when they are warrantless and without due process,” said Aref Assaf, the head of the American Arab Forum who helped draft the letter, sent Feb. 10. “We’re all for making sure our country is safe and terrorists are stopped, but this is really blanket profiling in its worst manifestation.”
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have insisted that police only follow legitimate leads and do not conduct preventative surveillance in ethnic communities. A May 2006 NYPD intelligence report addressed to Kelly, however, recommended increased spying at Shiite mosques, including some in New Jersey, and an assessment of the region’s Palestinian community to look for potential terrorists.
Paterson, located about 10 miles outside New York City, is home to one of the largest Palestinian communities in the northeast and to a large Arab American population of both Muslims and Christians. Assaf said the 2006 report that six New Jersey mosques — including one in Paterson with a large Palestinian, mostly Sunni, congregation — had been on the NYPD’s list has hampered longstanding efforts in forging closer ties between Muslims and law enforcement officials post-9/11.
“We consider ourselves to be law abiding, patriotic, productive citizens on the side of fighting terrorism,” Assaf said. “When our own law enforcement seems to be taking sides, their credibility is undermined. We have invited them into our houses of worship through the main door — not through the roof — but as long as they treat us this way, we will not have an open door, and not because we’re hiding anything.”
Sakina Rizvi of the Council of Shia Professionals and Imamia Medics International, both groups that signed the letter, said many New Jersey Muslims are concerned by the reports and want to know what involvement, if any, New Jersey law enforcement has had.
In a series of investigative reports since August, the AP has revealed that, with the CIA’s help, the NYPD developed spying programs that monitored every aspect of Muslim life and built databases on where innocent Muslims eat, shop, work and pray. Plainclothes officers monitored conversations in Muslim neighborhoods and wrote daily reports about what they heard.
The NYPD’s operating rules prohibit it from basing investigations on religion. The NYPD also says it follows FBI guidelines, which would prohibit many of the steps recommended in the report.
By Samantha Henry
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