NJ Muslims challenge NYPD 9/11-related surveillance programs

by Nickalas Tabbert

Eight Muslims filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in New Jersey to force the New York Police Department to end its surveillance and other intelligence-gathering practices.

The lawsuit alleged the practices targeting Muslims in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks were unconstitutional because they focused on people’s religion, national origin and race, The Associated Press said.

San Francisco-based Muslim Advocates filed the suit in New Jersey because it was requested by individuals and groups there, said Farhana Khera, the group’s executive director.  Khera said the surveillance feels more offensive in the Garden State because “it was outsiders coming into their state” to do surveillance.

Prior to Wednesday, no lawsuit had ever directly challenged the police department’s surveillance program, which was the subject of an investigative series by the AP last year that reported the NYPD conducted wholesale surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling daily life including where people ate, prayed and got their hair cut.

The NYPD surveillance program targeted Muslims at businesses, universities and mosques, including one in Paterson and several in Newark, as well as student groups at 16 Northeast colleges, including Rutgers University, NorthJersey.com said.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Police Department have defended the spying program as lawful and necessary, while civic groups and some lawmakers have called for investigations.  The New Jersey attorney general determined last month the activities in the state were legal.

Syed Farhaj Hassan, one of the plaintiffs and an Army reservist, said he was concerned that anything linking his life to potential terrorism would hurt his military security clearance.

“Guilt by association was forced on me,” he said.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said his department is obligated to conduct the surveillance in order to protect New York from another 9/11.  Kelly said the 2001 attacks proved that New Yorkers could not rely solely on the federal government for protection, and the NYPD needed to enhance its efforts.