Since 9/11, the NYPD, as part of its anti-terrorism operation, has been aggressively spying on the Muslim community. Even Muslims at prayer in their mosques could not be assured they weren’t under heavy scrutiny by undercover cops hoping to get any little scrap of evil intentions.
That invasion of privacy, that intrusion into every facet of Muslim life, has finally come to an end, and it probably makes little difference to those under surveillance whether it’s over because of politics or that it was basically an unlawful activity doing more harm than good.
Initially called the Demographics Unit, it evolved or devolved recently into the Zone Assessment Unit, but changing the name did not change the operation and the gathering of secret information from Muslims in all walks of life, no matter who they were or where they happened to be. Even if the reports are true that the program has been inactive since William Bratton replaced Ray Kelly as police commissioner, there is still the unnerving effect of the psychological damage it leaves on innocent Muslims just trying to be decent citizens.
This iniquitous violation of one’s civil rights is something Black Americans have long been acquainted with, and for Black Americans who are Muslim, it becomes a double dose of insult and interposition.
Spying on people automatically means they are under suspicion, that they are guilty of doing something before they do it, and, in effect, it’s just another form of racial profiling, a kind of foreign or religious form of stop-and-frisk.
A couple of years ago, civil rights groups were alarmed by the practice and filed lawsuits to stop the unwarranted surveillance. To some degree they can feel vindicated, but what about the information already gathered by the NYPD? What assurances are there that it will be destroyed and not retrieved at a later date to unfairly incriminate a Muslim?
While we are glad this unconstitutional behavior is seemingly over, it is truly disturbing that it took so long to realize the harm it was doing to the civil liberties of Muslims. A Muslim must be allowed to eat, sleep and pray without worrying that someone is snooping on them, recording their every movement and compiling a dossier of private conversations that can be used to justify the existence of a program that for all intents and purposes was never worth the bother.
It’s over, and good riddance; now let’s deal with a few other injustices, and hopefully the NYPD can train its eyes on some folks who really need to be watched.