The Brennan Center for Justice, along with 20 other New York-based human rights, civil liberties, and community-based organizations, sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, expressing concern over New York City’s participation in the newly introduced “Strong Cities” initiative, as part of broader efforts to institute programs under the banner of “Countering Violent Extremism” in the United States.
The “Strong Cities” initiative would create a global network of local governments who have deployed CVE initiatives in their respective cities. Advocates argue that further CVE efforts are misguided, as such programs, both in the U.S. and abroad, have been heavily criticized for stigmatizing Muslim communities and threatening constitutionally protected freedoms. Such CVE efforts are aimed at identifying “risk factors,” which often include common behaviors associated with religious practice and political activism. Evidence suggests the new iteration of CVE programming, which focuses significantly on youth and children, have broadened these “risk factors” to include behaviors common to an adolescent population, such as “personality changes” and “clashes over ideological differences.” CVE programs have also been misused as a cover for surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations in the American Muslim communities they target.
Decades of empirical studies show there are no behavioral or demographic indicators that can be used to predict who will become a violent extremist. Given the demonstrated ineffectiveness and counterproductivity of CVE programming in other locations, establishing similar initiatives within New York City would be a setback to Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to collaborate with local stakeholders on issues of discriminatory policing and surveillance impacting New York Muslims.
“Despite years of experience with CVE programming in the U.S. and abroad, there is no evidentiary basis for concluding that these programs contribute to reducing terrorism, which is their stated goal,” the letter states. “The impact of targeting Muslim communities for special CVE measures is to brand them as inherently suspicious and somehow less American than others…Muslims are part of New York’s diverse fabric. They should be treated as full partners, not as problems.”