City Council Members, Civil Rights Advocates Press Conference Puts Spotlight on NYPD Operations

October 6, 2011

Contact:     Erik Opsal, Brennan Center for Justice, erik.opsal@nyu.edu, 646-292-8356
Alex Moore, Council Member Brad Lander alex.moore@council.nyc.gov, 718-499-1090

New York, NY – New York City Council Members from the Progressive Caucus and the Black, Latino & Asian Caucus, the Brennan Center for Justice, community groups and civil rights advocates gathered at City Hall today to raise concerns about the New York Police Department’s infiltration of the local 800,000-person Muslim community and to call for more oversight of the NYPD’s intelligence operations.

Last month, the Associated Press reported on its investigation of NYPD intelligence gathering tactics, detailing numerous examples of racial profiling and intrusion into ethnic communities looking for “hot spots” of potential terrorist activity. 

The most recent revelations show that many mosques and Muslim religious leaders working directly with Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD on community-police relations were at the same time under surveillance by the NYPD’s intelligence-gathering efforts.

The Associated Press also reported that the NYPD Intelligence Division conducted a “human mapping program” to identify Muslim neighborhoods in New York and continued to spy on them by:

  • Sending undercover agents, called “rakers,” to cafes, bookstores and nightclubs to monitor ethnic Muslims and “American Black Muslim”;
  • Using “mosque crawlers” to watch and listen to sermons at mosques around the City even where there was no indication of criminal or terrorist activity;
  • Targeting some mosques for extra attention because of “rhetoric” and picking on a Bangladeshi restaurant because it attracted a “devout crowd”;
  • Obtaining a list from the taxi commission of every Pakistani cab driver in the city; and
  • Monitoring Muslim student associations at local schools because students were “politically active.”

The press conference was held in advance of a New York City Council Public Safety Committee oversight hearing on “Safety 10 Years After 9/11.”

“In protecting us against terrorism, the NYPD must abide by the law and our Constitutional values,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center. “Recent reports by well-respected, objective journalists about the NYPD’s activities are disturbing. They underscore the need for oversight and accountability.” The Brennan Center also released an analysis of the NYPD’s activities, “Unchecked NYPD Operations in Need of Oversight.”

“We certainly want the NYPD working hard to keep New Yorkers safe, investigate leads, and prevent attacks before they happen,” said Council Member Brad Lander, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. “If the NYPD has created an intelligence gathering division on par with the federal intelligence agencies, we need a legislative oversight framework on par with that of federal lawmakers. While many of the details of the NYPD's intelligence work must remain confidential, this cannot be an excuse for evading oversight.”

“I am alarmed when the police invade the privacy of any New York City resident,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, “but this is especially concerning because, since September 11, 2001, there has been a cavalier disregard for the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. The NYPD must be more selective and judicious in its monitoring practices, as well as more forthright about their intentions.  Otherwise, this represents a violation of the principles we, as citizens, hold dear — it's just that simple.”

“The NYPD's intelligence-gathering activities in the Muslim community are of great concern to me,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm, Chair of the Committee on Immigration.  “This type of spying on one particular community is an affront to the civil liberties that our constitution guarantees and which make our country so special. Rather than creating an environment that facilitates a fruitful dialogue between the Muslim community and law enforcement, these tactics by the NYPD often create mistrust and, therefore, may also create unwillingness in the Muslim community to work with them in future crime investigations.  As someone who represents one of the most diverse districts in New York City, I have deep concerns over any operation that contributes to a culture of racial profiling and is counterproductive to our efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers."

“Keeping New York City safe is important, but that does not reduce the importance of protecting the civil liberties of all Americans, regardless of their background.  I do not believe that these are incompatible goals,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams. “New Yorkers have the right to be concerned based on these stories of racial and ethnic profiling, which is why City Council oversight of the NYPD's intelligence activities is clearly needed."

“Many of the methods deployed by the NYPD to gather intelligence are disturbing," said Council Member Margaret Chin. “NYC is still a top terror target, particularly lower Manhattan, but we have to employ smart policing that upholds the civil rights and privacy of immigrants and ethnic communities in New York. We must focus on strengthening ties between immigrant communities and the NYPD — not promoting distrust."

“It is concerning to me that those who have never been convicted or charged of any crime have undergone surveillance,” said Council Member Letitia James.  “The NYPD should report to an oversight body to review the scope of any intelligence faction, and to examine the degree to which this particular police division is meeting a need that federal intelligence is not. It is imperative that investigations by the NYPD not infringe on individual rights, or foster distrust with religious and ethnic minority communities.”

“I have the greatest respect for the NYPD and the work they do every day to keep New Yorkers safe, but racial profiling and spying on innocent civilians have no place in our city," said Council Member Stephen Levin. "There must be greater legislative oversight of surveillance techniques employed by the NYPD."

“The NYPD has a monumental task in ensuring the safety of all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Deborah Rose, Chair of the Committee on Civil Rights. “However, I can’t help but be concerned about their use of tactics that may be construed as questionable in ensuring our safety.  I want to make sure that the NYPD, in so far as their mandate to keep us safe allows, is not infringing on the civil liberties of specific ethnic groups in New York.”

Other speakers at the press conference included Imam Aiyub of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan NY, Fahad Ahmed of DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), Udi Ofer of New York Civil Liberties Union, Linda Sarsour of the National Network for Arab American Communities, and Cyrus McGoldrick of CAIR New York.

“The Black, Latino and Asian Caucus is very concerned about NYPD's unrestricted surveillance of our citizens.  During the height of the civil rights movement, organized Black and Puerto Rican groups were subjected to governmental surveillance giving way to increased racial tensions between NYPD and minority groups. As both a City and a society, we must tread carefully in promoting the safety of our citizens without compromising any of their civil liberties,” said Council Member Robert Jackson, Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

Background information:

Last month, the Associated Press reported on its investigation of NYPD intelligence gathering tactics, detailing numerous examples of racial profiling and intrusion into ethnic communities looking for “hot spots” of potential terrorist activity.
“NYPD CIA Anti-Terror Operations Conducted In Secret For Years” by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman http://tinyurl.com/425hkwj

The most recent revelations show that many mosques and Muslim religious leaders working directly with Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD on community-police relations were at the same time under surveillance by the NYPD’s intelligence-gathering efforts.
“NYPD Spied on City's Muslim Partners” by Eileen Sullivan http://tinyurl.com/66p2x3d

Read the Brennan Center’s analysis of the NYPD’s activities
Unchecked NYPD Operations in Need of Oversight” at http://tinyurl.com/6ymt94g