Muslim-American advocacy organizations are hailing a legal settlement with New York City police over the department’s surveillance of the community, saying the agreement sends a message that simply being Muslim is not a crime.
The settlement, announced Thursday by lawyers for New York City, the New York Police Department and the Muslim community, resolves a 2012 lawsuit brought by Muslim groups. The suit challenged the lawfulness of a program New York police created after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to gather intelligence on Muslims.
Under the terms of the settlement, the New York Police Department confirmed that it has dismantled the unit responsible for carrying out the intelligence-gathering operation and agreed not to conduct suspicionless surveillance based on religion or ethnicity.
Victory for American Muslims
Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy organization that initially filed the lawsuit, hailed the settlement as a victory for American Muslims.
“Today’s settlement sends a message to all law enforcement: Simply being Muslim is not a basis for surveillance,” Khera said during a press call with reporters.
Omar Farah, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a progressive legal advocacy organization that later joined the lawsuit, agreed that the settlement bears the same message.
“Attempting to predict criminality on the basis of race or religion is repugnant and it never works — except to humiliate and criminalize targeted communities,” Farah said.
Years of spying, not one lead
Muslim Advocates filed the lawsuit after the Associated Press revealed in a series of investigative reports in 2011 and 2012 how the New York Police Department infiltrated Muslim groups and put informants in mosques in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
As part of the counterterror program, the police monitored at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools and two Muslim student associations in New Jersey, Khera said.
The monitoring included video surveillance of mosques, photographing of license plates, community mapping, and infiltration of mosques, student associations and businesses, she said.
Khera said the surveillance did not produce a single investigative lead.
“This was not lawful policing but just blatant discrimination against innocent Americans,” she said.
The settlement came after an appeals court in 2015 struck down a lower court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit, prompting New York City to initiate talks with the plaintiffs.
Farhaj Hassan, a U.S. Army reservist and the lead plaintiff in the case, said the settlement was a victory for the United States.
“We believe the legal rulings and settlement in this case will endure as part of a broader effort to hold this country to account for its stated commitment and its obligation to uphold religious liberty and equality,” Hassan said.
This story was written by VOA’s Masood Farivar.