American-Muslims protest New York police tactics
05 February, 2012
NEW YORK: Braving cold weather, hundreds of American-Muslims staged a rally in front of New York Police headquarters on Friday to protest a decade of police infiltrating mosques and spying on Muslim neighbourhoods.
The placard-weaving and slogan-chanting protesters, bundled in winter clothes, marched to the building after offering their Friday prayers in a public square in lower Manhattan. "Being Muslim does not negate our nationality," Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid told the crowd.
"We are unapologetically Muslim and uncompromisingly American," he said, adding, "We want for you to respect us… and we will respect you."
It was the first organised opposition to the NYPD's intelligence tactics since an Associated Press investigation revealed widespread spying programmes that documented every aspect of Muslim life in New York.
Police infiltrated mosques and student groups. Plainclothes officers catalogued Middle Eastern restaurants and their clientele. Analysts built databases on Arab cab drivers and monitored Muslims who changed their names.
"Had this been happening to any other religious group, all of America would be outraged," said one protester.
Following the prayer service, the Muslims joined by about 50 Occupy Wall Street demonstrators crowded the sidewalk for the short walk to the large police headquarters building known as One Police Plaza.
They stayed only briefly, chanting for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's ouster, before returning to the Foley Square. Protesters carried signs that said "NYPD Watches Us. Who Watches NYPD?" A dozen or so uniformed police officers monitored the demonstration and followed the march, but there were no clashes between protesters and police.
At an unrelated news conference on Friday, Kelly told reporters that he "categorically denied" the idea that the NYPD was spying. Kelly said his officers only follow leads and do not simply trawl neighbourhoods. "We do what we believe necessary to protect this city, pursuant to the law," Kelly said. "We have a battery of very experienced, well-trained lawyers that advise us on all of our tactics and operations."
Outside the department, however, there is little oversight of the Intelligence Division and its roughly $60 million budget. The City Council is not told about all the department's secret operations and city auditors have not scrutinised the unit since it was transformed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Some of its tactics, such as monitoring name changes, would not be allowed by the FBI because of civil liberties concerns.