In recent months, the fight against profiling in New York City achieved a number of important milestones: The City Council passed the Community Safety Act over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto, and a federal judge ruled that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program amounts to racial profiling, is unconstitutional and must end. Both of these victories speak to the hard work and dedication of New York City activists who stood up against police abuses.
However, our work is not over. Recent news reminds us that the efforts to end profiling in New York City and across the country must include a form of profiling that is often dismissed and allowed to continue: the profiling of people of Muslim or Middle Eastern descent under the guise of “national security.”
According to an article by the Associated Press, for the past several years, the NYPD has classified a number of New York City mosques as “terrorism organizations” in order to conduct widespread surveillance. This marker enables police to spy on congregants and religious leaders alike, and even to install undercover officers in leadership roles.
As one example, the NYPD spied on the Arab American Association of New York, a secular group that promotes volunteer work and get-out-the-vote efforts for Americans of Arab descent.
There are strong parallels between this program of spying on mosques and Muslim organizations and the NYPD racial profiling program known as stop-and-frisk. In both cases, Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly drastically expanded their powers in the name of public safety. In both instances, they have used fear-mongering to fend off criticism and delegitimize their opponents. And in both cases, Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent were targets.
Just as stop-and-frisk failed to improve public safety and rarely led to arrests or weapons charges, this baseless spying on Muslim communities is not the way to improve national security. History proves that the most effective and potent method of law enforcement is focusing on credible information about suspicious activity. Casting a wide net of suspicion on entire communities not only goes against the very fabric of our constitution, but is also a waste of precious police time and resources.
Fortunately, the people of New York City have already proven that they will not stand for racial or religious profiling of any kind. In the spirit of this year’s victory against stop-and-frisk policing, we all need to stand with Muslim and Middle Eastern communities to demand an end to these civil liberties violations. As the stop-and-frisk battle showed us, strong, strategic and diverse coalitions can withstand even the most intense and well-funded efforts to promote unlawful policy through fear.
Last June, 70,000 people joined in a silent march to Bloomberg’s house to stand up against racial profiling and stop-and-frisk abuses. The marchers represented every race, religion, nationality, sexual identity and ethnicity that New York City has to offer. They understood that no New Yorker, and no American, should be profiled based on the way they look, the way they dress or their religious beliefs. This diverse grassroots campaign helped secure the passage of the Community Safety Act and serves as a case study to prove that when minority groups work together, we can form a strong majority.
Every person involved in the fight to end stop-and-frisk abuses should just as vehemently stand up to NYPD’s profiling of and spying on Muslim and Middle Eastern communities. And as the fight against stop-and-frisk showed, we are better able to make great strides toward justice and equality when we all stand together.
A few days before the silent march against stop-and-frisk, one of the leaders of the LGBT community explained why she chose to take a stand against a policy that mostly affected people of color. Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told The New York Times, “We are all standing together against police harassment on the basis of a person’s identity. … There was no rational reason to raid the Stonewall Inn in 1969, and there is no rational reason to stop Black and Latino men in 2012 and frisk them simply for being who they are.”
We must heed Carey’s words and continue to stand together to protect the basic civil and constitutional rights of all communities.
Dr. Niaz Kasravi is Director of the NAACP Criminal Justice Department