It has come to light that the New York City Police Department has been secretly spying on Muslim student groups at colleges in New York and across the East Coast. Officers were even placed at universities to monitor and report on the activities of Muslim students without justified cause of wrongdoing. The NYPD unfairly targeted hundreds of innocent college students in violation of fundamental liberties. It’s frightening to see the abuse of power caused by Islamophobia. A thorough investigation is needed to ensure such unwarranted surveillance never occurs again.
On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that the NYPD had compiled a 60-page report on Muslims living in Long Island and New York City. The reports detailed conversations and contained video recordings of mosques and other community events, in addition to personal information about individuals. Later, the AP also divulged that the NYPD monitored Muslim college students along the East Coast. Every week Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was updated with information. These reports included names of students, how many times a day they prayed and their organizations and activities.
In a bizarre case in April 2008, one undercover NYPD officer traveled to upstate New York with 18 Muslim students of the City College of New York’s Muslim Student Association. The students prayed, discussed Islam and went white-water rafting — all of it was recorded daily by the undercover officer. Without cause, their names were reported back to the NYPD for further investigation. This is alarming in a country where freedom of religion, civil liberties and the notion that someone is innocent until proven guilty are all encouraged.
It’s especially alarming that the cities and universities where this monitoring occurred weren’t informed beforehand. The NYPD initially began surveillance only within New York City, but soon expanded as far as the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse University, Yale University and Rutgers University. Not only are these universities outside of NYPD’s jurisdiction, but they were unaware of the secret surveillance happening on their campuses. The NYPD clearly overreached, and this breach of policy and power is alarming, especially considering the strength and size of the NYPD.
Police spokesman Paul Browne defended the actions taken by NYPD by saying that 12 individuals convicted and arrested on terrorism charges in the past had been members of Muslim Student Associations. Browne’s argument nowhere near justifies the surveillance of an innocent group of college students without any cause of suspicion. The NYPD’s actions take racial profiling to a new level, instilling suspicion and fear among communities, infracting upon the rights of Muslim Americans and perpetuating Islamophobia.
Muslim Americans are constantly being forced to defend their personal religion and heritage, and demonizing an entire religion for the actions of an overwhelming minority is irrational.
The surveillance of these students is shameful for the NYPD. It had no right or jurisdiction to vilify innocent students across the United States for no reason, beside their religion. To work toward an inclusive and diverse America, public officials should be working toward, not against, tolerance.