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Rights Lawyers Sue NYPD Over 'Widespread and Intense' Surveillance of Muslims

Lawyers: surveillance 'like the NYPD’s has no end'

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

In a legal challenge filed on Monday, civil rights lawyers are now suing the NYPD over "widespread and intense" surveillance of Muslims living in and around New York City.

The suit involves cases revealed in an earlier Associated Press investigation in which the NYPD was exposed conducting covert surveillance on Muslim communities in New York with no prior evidence of illegal activity or criminal intent—simply based on the assumption that "conservative Muslim beliefs and participation in Muslim organizations are themselves bases for investigation."

“Investigations of any community which are not based upon indications of crime create fear and erode the confidence of a community in the power of a legal system to protect it,” said Paul Chevigny, a professor of law at New York University and one of five attorneys in the case.

“We brought this motion because even in the face of the startling evidence in the press reports, Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg have declared the NYPD will continue its intrusive secret surveillance program targeting completely innocent activities in Muslim communities, notwithstanding the prohibitions in the Handschu guidelines the NYPD is obliged to follow.”

The civil rights lawyers involved in the case argue that the widespread practice is in direct violation of Handschu v. Special Services Division—a long running federal case that has produced a series of court orders regulating NYPD surveillance of political and religious activity. In the class-action lawsuit, sparked by NYPD surveillance of anti-war protesters in 1971, subsequent rulings have restricted the NYPD's ability to investigate or spy on people when there is no "reasonable indication" of unlawful activity or terrorism.

Monday's suit seeks an injunction against the NYPD to stop the tactics and asked that a monitor be appointed to oversee the department.

“The NYPD’s widespread surveillance of New York City’s Muslim communities rests upon the erroneous perception that all Muslims, regardless of their individual beliefs and values, are inherently suspect. In this way, the NYPD stigmatizes the Muslim communities by conveying the message that all Muslim have a proclivity toward violence and disloyalty,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg.

As a result, NYCLU adds:

Declarations of Muslim community leaders included in today’s court filing provide more detail of the harms that Muslims endure as a result of this surveillance program. In essence, they are afraid to go to community gatherings because they fear they would be branded as suspect or that their name could end up in a police file; they are afraid to talk to people and are suspicious of their neighbors because of the NYPD’s recruitment of informers; they feel violated and that they have no privacy because their community has been infiltrated; and they fear participating in any political action, even in protesting the Police Department’s tactics.

“When surveillance is conducted to detect a crime, it stops when the crime is stopped or the danger has passed. But a surveillance program like the NYPD’s has no end. It just hurts more and more people as it continues," added said lawyer Jethro Eisenstein.

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