According to a recent report by the Associated Press, the New York Police Department secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism organizations, a designation that allowed them to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing most of the time. Designating an entire mosque as a “terrorism enterprise” also means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NYPD opened at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations (TEI)” into mosques, according to the AP. Many of these investigations can stretch for years, which allowed the NYPD to continue surveillance even though no Islamic organization or mosque has been charged with a crime. The AP report also revealed that the NYPD’s strategy involved sending undercover officers into mosques and attempting to plant informants on the boards of mosques and one particular Muslim organization in Brooklyn.
In a joint statement, Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights lamented over their belief that anyone who practices Islam in New York City is under attack.
“This disturbing reminder of the urgent need for police reform in New York City comes on the 50th anniversary of the historic march in Washington, D.C., where brave and determined Americans convened with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to demand an end to the second-class citizen status of millions of Americans,” read the statement. “The revelation that the NYPD has been secretly marking mosques as terrorism organizations, recording sermons in places of worship, and then spying on anyone who enters those mosques is shocking and is yet more evidence that the NYPD is trampling on Americans’ fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Elected officials have also come out against the NYPD’s tactics after the AP’s revelation.
“According to the NYPD’s own guidelines, no one should be stopped or spied upon by the police because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs,” said New York City Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu in a statement. “That’s why we’ve launched the first-ever audit of the NYPD’s surveillance program. We’re going to determine if this technology, which allows the police to watch almost every move New Yorkers make, is safeguarded from abuse or misuse by those entrusted to control it.
“Does the NYPD have procedures in place to ensure against unconstitutional profiling?” asked Liu. “How do we know that this system isn’t abused by individuals for criminal purposes, such as stalking? Who is watching the watchers? This audit will help New Yorkers better understand how surveillance works in their city.”