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NYPD Spying on Muslims 'Beyond Offensive and Wrong': 125 Groups Demand Investigation

'The NYPD’s unconstitutional mapping and surveillance of American Muslims is religious, racial, and ethnic discrimination at its worst'

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

125 racial justice, community, and faith organizations are demanding that the U.S. Justice Department launch a civil rights investigation into the dragnet surveillance of Muslims at the hands of the New York Police Department.

In a searing letter released Thursday, organizations including the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) blast the NYPD's "discriminatory surveillance," which they charge "is based on the false and unconstitutional premise, reflected in the NYPD’s published “radicalization” theory, that Muslim religious belief, practices, and community engagement are grounds for law enforcement scrutiny."

Starting in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has systematically surveilled Muslims at mosques, bookstores, neighborhoods, and restaurants for no reason other than their faith. This has included sending paid infiltrators into mosques, student organizations, and other associations to spy on individuals, document conversations, and take photographs. The NYPD has mapped New York to single out Muslim communities for monitoring.

The spying program continues to the present despite public protest and outrage following its exposure by the Associated Press and other media outlets.

"Putting a class of Americans under surveillance based on their religion is a clear violation of our Constitution’s guarantees of equality and religious freedom," said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. "The NYPD’s surveillance program has stigmatized Muslims as suspect and had deeply negative effects on their free speech, association, and religious practice."

The organizations are demanding that attorney general Eric Holder open a civil rights investigation that would open the door for further action by the Justice Department to order a halt to the spying program.

"The NYPD’s unconstitutional mapping and surveillance of American Muslims is religious, racial, and ethnic discrimination at its worst," said Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau and senior vice president for policy and advocacy.

"It is beyond offensive and wrong for the NYPD or any law enforcement agency to stereotypically single out American Muslims as being more prone to violence based solely on their religious membership or affiliation," she added. "Just as the Civil Rights Division has investigated and sanctioned police departments for biased profiling based on race and ethnicity, it should investigate the NYPD for profiling based on religion."

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