NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) — A coalition of Muslim and civil rights groups is asking Gov. Chris Christie to investigate reports of secret surveillance of Muslim communities by the New York Police Department.
Sixteen New Jersey organizations have signed a letter asking the governor to investigate the extent of the surveillance in New Jersey and whether local law enforcement agencies were involved.
The letter cites a series of stories by The Associated Press that detailed the monitoring or recommended surveillance of Muslims in New York and surrounding states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, by the NYPD.
Signatories to the letter, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the American Arab Forum and the Council of Shia Professionals, among other groups, noted that the surveillance plans detailed in the reports point to violations both of New Jersey law and the civil rights of law abiding residents.
“The seriousness of this problem cannot be overstated,” the letter to Christie said. “Given the trust the Muslim community has built with your office through your engagement with these communities and public stance against “overreacting” to the threat of terror and painting “all of Islam” with the brush of terrorism, we are contacting you with our concerns.”
Christie suggested through a spokesman Thursday that it would not be appropriate for him to conduct such an investigation and would instead forward the investigation request to the state prosecutor’s office.
The groups are asking Christie to press the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the NYPD’s actions, and for the governor to explain to Muslim residents the extent of the NYPD’s activities in New Jersey.
Aref Assaf, the head of the American Arab Forum who helped draft the letter, said Christie had not yet responded to the letter, sent Feb. 10.
“We are very upset with the NYPD’s spying efforts, especially when they are warrantless and without due process,” Assaf said. “We’re all for making sure our country is safe and terrorists are stopped, but this is really blanket profiling in its worst manifestation.”
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have insisted that police only follow legitimate leads and do not conduct preventative surveillance in ethnic communities. A May 2006 NYPD intelligence report addressed to Kelly, however, recommended increased spying at Shiite mosques, including some in New Jersey, and an assessment of the region’s Palestinian community to look for potential terrorists.
Paterson, located about 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside New York City, is home to one of the largest Palestinian communities in the northeast and to a large Arab American population of both Muslims and Christians. Assaf said the 2006 report that six New Jersey mosques — including one in Paterson with a large Palestinian, mostly Sunni, congregation — had been on the NYPD’s list has hampered longstanding efforts in forging closer ties between Muslims and law enforcement officials post-9/11.
“We consider ourselves to be law abiding, patriotic, productive citizens on the side of fighting terrorism,” Assaf said. “When our own law enforcement seems to be taking sides, their credibility is undermined. We have invited them into our houses of worship through the main door — not through the roof — but as long as they treat us this way, we will not have an open door, and not because we’re hiding anything.”
Sakina Rizvi of the Council of Shia Professionals and Imamia Medics International, both groups that signed the letter, said many New Jersey Muslims are concerned by the reports and want to know what involvement, if any, New Jersey law enforcement has had.
In a series of investigative reports since August, the AP has revealed that, with the CIA’s help, the NYPD developed spying programs that monitored every aspect of Muslim life and built databases on where innocent Muslims eat, shop, work and pray. Plainclothes officers monitored conversations in Muslim neighborhoods and wrote daily reports about what they heard. The NYPD’s operating rules prohibit it from basing investigations on religion. The NYPD also says it follows FBI guidelines, which would prohibit many of the steps recommended in the report.