Prompted by a spate of troubling news reports on racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), together with the Brennan Center for Justice and Muslim Advocates, has called upon the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to release its racial profiling and political activity investigation records.
Troubling Reports of Racial Profiling Emerge
The news stories that generated the concern included an article by the AP, which reported that NYPD officers were dispatched to “Pakistani neighborhoods and … instructed … to look for reasons to stop cars: speeding, broken tail lights, running stop signs, whatever.” Stopping cars gave the police “an opportunity to search for outstanding warrants or look for suspicious behavior. An arrest could be the leverage the police needed to persuade someone to become an informant.”
The article also cited several sources who said “mosque crawlers” were sent to monitor sermons, and local agents were stationed in local businesses such as cafes, bookstores, and nightclubs. Another article indicated that a Bangladeshi restaurant was targeted because it had a “devout crowd,” and Muslim student associations were targeted for having students who were “politically active and … radicalizing.”
“The AP stories appear to reveal a pattern of surveillance and invasions of privacy and confidentiality without any basis to believe there has been an illegal act,” said Ken Kimerling, legal director of AALDEF.
How AALDEF is Investigating the Truth
The first steps AALDEF, the Brennan Center, and Muslim Advocates are taking is to discover exactly what procedures the NYPD follows under the auspices of investigating terrorism. To that end, they have filed a request under New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) asking the NYPD to release information on its Intelligence Department’s
- cooperation with the CIA;
- real-world practices for investigating political activities;
- information gathering on ethnic/religious communities (racial profiling); and
- use of undercover informants.
“While it seems clear that Muslims are being targeted,” Kimerling said, “we want to learn how widespread this is and how broad these policies are.”
Why AALDEF is Concerned
The AP stories suggest that the NYPD’s investigation methods may be counter to its own guidelines on how to investigate unlawful political activity. Under its guidelines, often called the “Handschu Guidelines,” there must be a lead, or a reason to be concerned — before surveillance.
But, as Kimerling said, “The nature of this changed after 9/11.” Rather than following up on leads, intelligence-gathering turned into “going in and looking for leads.”
The point of the FOIL request, therefore, is to provide a check on the NYPD in order to prevent “any continuation of the government’s effort to suspect unlawful activity based on a person’s religion and ethnic origin, in particular the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists.”
Why You Should Be Concerned
As the national organization committed to protecting and promoting the civil rights of Asian Americans, AALDEF is supremely concerned by any potentially illegal or unconstitutional activities infringing on the rights of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. On a broader level, racial profiling by the U.S. government has had a long and ugly history in this country, from the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II to the abuses perpetrated by law enforcement during the Civil Rights era. Its continued practice affects us all. “Today it may be Muslim, Arab, and South Asian Americans,” said Kimerling. “Tomorrow it will be you.”
Read the full FOIL request
Please contact AALDEF if you are interested in learning more about this issue or becoming involved.
212-966-5932 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Image credits: rollingrck/Flickr and edenpictures/Flickr