Muslim and civil rights groups welcomed the news that the New York
City Police Department’s Demographics Unit will disband but said they still
fear they may be targets of warrantless surveillance.
Muslim Advocates filed a lawsuit in 2012 to stop the program, and the
group was later joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“We need to hear from the mayor and NYPD officials that the policy
itself has been ended and that the department will no longer apply mass
surveillance or other forms of biased and predatory policing to any faith-based
community,” said Ryan Mahoney, president of another Muslim civil rights group,
the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The controversial unit was established in 2003 and uncovered by The Associated Press in 2011. Lawyers
contend that since the unit’s inception, the NYPD has spied on at least 20
mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two Muslim elementary schools, and
two Muslim Student Association chapters on college campuses in New Jersey.
Forms of monitoring include video surveillance, photographing and community
Lawyers said internal NYPD documents included a list of 28 “ancestries
of interest” and policies showing that officers based their spying on the
ethnic and religious background of their targets.
Former NYPD Police Chief Ray Kelly defended the spying as a critical
tool in the battle against terrorism, but critics charged the NYPD violated the
constitutional rights of Muslims by profiling them based on their religion and
said the program never produced a single lead.
Muslims in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, where the spying took
place, said the program intimidated Muslims from attending mosques, speaking in
public and making charitable contributions to Muslim charities.
In February, a federal judge in New Jersey dismissed a lawsuit over
the department’s surveillance, saying Muslims could not prove they were harmed
by the tactics. But Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional
Rights appealed the judge’s ruling.
A Muslim Advocates spokeswoman said the NYPD decision does not affect
the lawsuit and that it will move forward. The lawsuit demands that the NYPD
stop the program and that the department expunge all records of the plaintiffs
collected through the program.