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NYPD spying on Muslims has real victims

stock-policeBy Diala Shamas, New York Daily News, 4/1/2013

American Muslims: They're Democrats and Republicans, young and old, bodega owners, doctors, cabbies, bankers, lawyers, students and entrepreneurs.

But the Police Department seems to think they could all be potential terrorists.

Accordingly, the NYPD has decided Muslim communities should be spied on.

As part of a vast, costly and, until recently, covert surveillance program that started in 2001, the NYPD had undercover officers and informants go into restaurants and stores, infiltrate mosques and student groups, canvas neighborhoods to record the mundane details of American Muslims' daily activities. Officers noted, for example, what sort of cuisine was served in an establishment and whether it aired Al-Jazeera.

This was supposedly done to find terrorists or those who would offer them succor. But the truth is that the NYPD was taking a page from the KGB's notorious playbook.

After a good decade of intensive spying, the NYPD still cannot point to a single lead or prosecution that has resulted from this strategy. And despite the failure to justify blanket surveillance on the basis of religion, the NYPD still asks New Yorkers to trust blindly in these problematic tactics.

Though indiscriminate spying is ineffective, that doesn't mean that it is harmless. Last month, a civil liberties coalition released a report documenting the devastating impact of NYPD spying on the American Muslim community.

As one of the report's authors, I spent many hours listening to Muslim New Yorkers from all walks of life as they told chilling stories of how every aspect of their daily routines has been affected, how they have essentially been made to cower from the public sphere that American democracy is supposed to celebrate.

The stories are painful. One student we spoke with recounted how, after he had enrolled at CUNY, officers knocked on his door, offering him money to peruse other Muslim students' Facebook pages and report their postings. While he resisted despite the pressure, he assumed many of his peers had similarly been approached.

His concern was well-justified: Last October, a young man of Bangladeshi origins "outed" himself as an informant on Facebook, telling his friends that he had not only befriended them at the instruction of his NYPD handlers, but that he had been reporting on their conversations, study groups and boyish banter for months.

The result is as unsurprising as it is depressing. At Hunter College, the Muslim student club put up a sign beseeching members not to discuss politics in the group's club room, because the club feared attracting NYPD surveillance. (Full article)

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