As reported by the Associated Press’ Tom Hays on Feb 21, a federal judge in Newark, N.J., decided that the New York Police Department has been within its constitutional bounds spying on Muslims at mosques, restaurants, colleges and grade schools in New Jersey since 2002.
Not surprisingly, most of the national media ignored this shocking ruling.
U.S. District Judge William Martini explained that police officers, who also infiltrated the locations they spied on, were trying “to locate budding terrorist conspiracies” (“Judge: Spying on NJ Muslims by NYPD Was Legal,” Tom Hays, AP, Feb. 21).
The lawsuit, Hassan v. City of New York, was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of New Jersey plaintiffs who were targeted by the celebrated former New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and his NYPD.
According to the CCR, the plaintiffs included “a decorated Iraq War veteran, current and former Rutgers University students, the parent organization of the Muslim Student Associations of Rutgers University (Newark and New Brunswick campuses), a coalition of New Jersey mosques, and the owners and proprietors of a grade school for Muslim girls” (ccrjustice.org).
They were tracked only because they were Muslims, and, of course, the surveillance was done without a warrant. As the CCR’s legal director, Baher Azmy, correctly tells us:
“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” (“Court Gives NYPD Green Light to Conduct Religious Surveillance,” ccrjustice.org).
For the future of our republic, this decision, which trashes our Constitution, should be discussed and debated in our schools as its appeal moves through the federal courts — ultimately, I assume, to the Supreme Court. I doubt that many of our young will even know about the case unless the press stays on it, reporting on such educational information from Azmy as: “The ruling is a modern-day version of the discredited Korematsu decision allowing the wholesale internment of Japanese Americans based solely on their ancestry. It is a troubling and dangerous decision.”
And all Americans should continue following this story knowing this fact from the CCR:
“After more than a decade in operation, the surveillance program (by New York police) has produced not a single lead on terrorist activity.”
While I was a reporter for The Village Voice in New York, I wrote a number of investigative accounts on Commissioner Kelly’s enthusiastic justification of this patently unconstitutional extension of the NYPD. I also reported on the constant applause he and the department received
from then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The mayor also reveled in the cops’ mammoth stop-and-frisk operations against mostly blacks and Latinos in New York.
Bloomberg had insisted on being New York City’s “education mayor” while the school system foundered. However, with the exception of certain targeted neighborhoods, he remained popular enough that he could have been re-elected had the law allowed it.
And while the former mayor doesn’t care (not surprisingly), courses on the Constitution and dramatic accounts of how it has survived are missing in the New York City school system — and in many other cities.
But one media organization that continues to cover the mass removal of citizenship from Muslims is the Associated Press. Its reporters won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories factually detailing the extent and depth of the NYPD’s surveillance and infiltration.
In his ruling affirming the legality of this Orwellian pursuit of Muslims who could be associated with terrorists, Judge Martini castigated the AP, which “covertly obtained the materials and published them without authorization. Thus the injury, if any existed, is not fairly traceable to the city (of New York).”
The culprits, apparently, were the press and the uncurbed First Amendment.
In its complaint filed on behalf of the plaintiffs, the CCR noted, “the NYPD also closely monitors the activities of Muslim Student Associations at colleges and universities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.”
Why the other states’ Muslim groups?
Simply because their membership is Muslim. The NYPD’s “reports include the names of professors, scholars and students without any evidence that they engaged in wrongdoing.”
Further discarding their targets’ constitutional rights, “undercover NYPD officers sometimes pose as students to attend MSA events. One officer, for example, went on a rafting trip with an MSA and monitored and recorded how often the student participants on the trip prayed, and that they discussed religious topics.”
Such revealing information!
I do hope that the justices of the Supreme Court will finally allow television cameras during their oral arguments on this case and others. I have been in the high court’s press section for a few of those oral arguments, and it’s very informative to witness how the justices — in questioning the attorneys and also answering their questions — reveal their preset conclusions as they try to shape the votes of their colleagues.
If the Supreme Court opens those sessions as they take place, classrooms all over the country should tune in to hear how it was possible for American Muslims to be banished from our Constitution in this century — with so little attention, let alone outrage, from the rest of the country.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.