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Muslims appeal federal judge’s ruling on NYPD surveillance, turn to de Blasio

Khorri Atkinson | 4/11/2014, 7:36 p.m.

A group of New Jersey Muslims are responding swiftly after their case got thrown out of federal district court. They challenged the constitutionality of the New York Police Department’s surveillance program on Muslim groups and communities. Now, they have appealed the federal judge’s decision.  

The group, represented by Muslim Advocates and the lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), said the NYPD has targeted innocent American Muslims just because of their faith, and that Judge William Martini’s ruling was unfair.

“The district court’s ruling gives legal sanction to targeted, religious discrimination by law enforcement without limitation,” said Baher Azmy, legal director of the CCR, in a statement. “The decision suggests that 9/11 justifies an exemption for Muslims in our Constitution. That ruling cannot stand.”

The group has also turned to Mayor Bill de Blasio. They said that because he has stated that he will reform the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk, he should also stop the NYPD from spying on Muslims. Following the appointment of Philip Eure to the position of inspector general of the NYPD, in a statement, the Arab American Association of New York suggested that Eure launch an investigation into the NYPD’s “unwarranted Muslim surveillance program.”

“Policing by profiling law-abiding New Yorkers is a total disregard for civil rights and compromises the safety of everyone. It is not sound or effective policing, and it must end. For over a decade, the NYPD infiltrated houses of worship and community organizations and monitored constitutionally protected activities, all without suspicion of criminal activity,” the statement reads.

In Martini’s written ruling at the United States District Court in Newark, N.J., on Feb. 20, he stated that the court considered the plaintiff’s claims of discrimination from NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program not “plausible.” He dismissed the case for having a “lack of standing.” He said the NYPD’s action was a lawful effort to prevent terrorism and doesn’t violate their civil rights.

“The NYPD could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself. The program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims,” said Martini.

The suit, Hassan v. City of New York, followed the release of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories reported in 2011 by the Associated Press. The reports, which relied heavily on confidential NYPD documents, said the NYPD infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups in New Jersey and New York colleges. The suit was filed in 2012 by the CCR and Muslim Advocates in representation of several mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and individuals, including an Iraqi war veteran, since 2002.

The plaintiff argued that Muslims were spied on solely based on their religion. They said the surveillance program has prevented them from going to mosques and Muslim-owned businesses and participating in other related activities.

But in response to their claim, while condemning the Associated Press for reporting on the surveillance program, Martini said, “None of the plaintiff’s injuries arose until after the Associated Press released unredacted, confidential NYPD documents and articles expressing its own interpretation of those documents. Nowhere in the complaint do plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of the documents.”

Glenn Katon, legal director of Muslim Advocates, said in a statement that his group will take an important legal fight against police discrimination “to the next round.”

“Just as many historic civil rights cases have required appeals from lower court rulings to address systemic discrimination, we are not surprised that the Hassan case needs to push through to the higher courts. These brave American Muslims are determined and ready to stand up for their rights and every American’s right to equal treatment, regardless of faith.”