Muslim Americans and civil rights groups are criticizing a federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit alleging the New York City Police Department illegally spied on Muslim Americans in New Jersey.
“By upholding the NYPD’s blunderbuss Muslim surveillance practices, the court’s decision gives legal sanction to the targeted discrimination of Muslims anywhere and everywhere in this country, without limitation, for no other reason than their religion,” said Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the organizations that filed the lawsuit.
The suit, Hassan v. City of New York, was filed in 2012 by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates on behalf of several mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and individuals, including a decorated Iraqi war veteran. The suit alleged that Muslims were spied on solely based on their religion, and that, as a result, they cannot visit mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and other related activities without living in fear of being spied on.
The plaintiffs said internal NYPD documents included a list of 28 “ancestries of interest” and other policies showing that officers based their spying on the ethnic and religious background of their targets.
U.S. District Judge William Martini in Newark disagreed in his ruling.
“The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies,” he wrote. “The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself.”
Glenn Katon of Muslim Advocates said that reasoning was flawed.
“The way you uncover terrorist plots is that you uncover leads,” he said. “You don’t just wander into mosques and businesses and spy on people. You follow leads based on information that criminal activity is being planned or is going on.”
Katon added that the NYPD surveillance program had not uncovered a single lead since its inception several years ago. He said he believed Martini’s decision would be overturned on appeal.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.
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