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May 14, 2013, New York -- Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights and seven other…
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Hassan v. City of New York, filed on June 6, 2012 in federal court in New Jersey, was brought on behalf of several New Jersey plaintiffs who were targeted and surveilled by the New York Police Department (NYPD) solely because of their religious affiliation. Among the eleven Plaintiffs are 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. This disparate group of individuals and organizations share just one characteristic: their Muslim affiliation. That fact alone led the NYPD to target and surveil them in clear violation of bedrock U.S. constitutional principles.
This case is now before the United States District Court District of New Jersey. Most recently, the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with co-counsel, Muslim Advocates, filed the Plaintiffs’ opposition to the City’s Motion to Dismiss on January 25, 2013.
In a Pulitzer-prize winning series of stories released in 2011, the Associated Press revealed that after the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD established a sprawling and secretive human mapping and surveillance program that targeted Muslim American communities in New York, New Jersey, and beyond, exclusively on the basis of their religious affiliation. The NYPD monitored and/or infiltrated almost every aspect of Muslim life, from mosques and student associations, to halaal butcher shops, restaurants, and private citizens. Internal NYPD documents confirm that the surveillance program was not tied to suspicion of criminality. And unsurprisingly, after more than a decade in operation, the surveillance program produced no leads to terrorist activity. Hassan v. City of New York is the first ever case brought on behalf of Muslim Americans who were unlawfully targeted and surveilled under this program.
There is no dispute that the NYPD’s goal – both ambitious and chilling – was to create a human mapping system that accounted for and monitored Muslims all along the Eastern Seaboard and beyond. The techniques it employed included video surveillance, photographing, and generating reports and community maps. In addition, the NYPD deployed officers to infiltrate locations frequented by Muslims. Without any suspicion of criminal activity, NYPD officers engaged in pretextual conversations to elicit even the most mundane details about the lives of Muslim Americans. No Muslim individual or entity appears to have been beyond suspicion. For example, Zaimah Abdur-Rahim, a Newark resident and named plaintiff, was surveilled by the NYPD because she operates a grade-school for Muslim girls. NYPD officers recorded details about the school, such as the fact that it was run from Abdur-Rahim’s home and that its students were predominantly African-American.
The racial or ethnic background of Muslim Americans was important to the NYPD because it used those classifications as a proxy to identify and target adherents of the Muslim faith. This, too, is spelled out in the NYPD’s internal documents, which list 28 “ancestries of interest” that are – to the NYPD – deserving of additional suspicion and scrutiny. Among those ancestries of interests are Egyptian, Pakistani, Somali, Sudanese, and an array of other Asian, Middle Eastern, and African ancestries that together comprise roughly 80% of the world’s Muslim population. (Seemingly oblivious to the dark historical irony, the NYPD also listed “American Black Muslim” among the “ancestries of interest.”) It is clear that the NYPD used ancestry as a proxy for religion because the NYPD exempted members of listed ancestries when they were not affiliated with the Muslim faith.
The NYPD’s program contravenes decades of civil rights precedent and challenges bedrock, cherished constitutional principles: among them equal protection under the law and the First Amendment guarantee of the freedom of religion. Plaintiffs have asked the United States District Court to declare that the NYPD’s program is unconstitutional on those bases, and to order the NYPD to immediately terminate the surveillance of the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs have also asked the Court to order the NYPD to destroy any records that have been surreptitiously generated about the Plaintiffs and to award financial compensation for the economic harms that have resulted from the NYPD’s discriminatory conduct. This case is now in pre-trial litigation. The Plaintiffs are defending the City’s attempt to have the case thrown out before the merits of the case are heard in open court.
2002: NYPD begins to map, target, and surveil every aspect of daily Muslim life in New York, New Jersey and beyond.
Summer 2011: Associated Press reports on the NYPD’s surveillance program and Demographics Unit
June 6, 2012: Complaint filed on behalf of Plaintiffs
October 3, 2012: First Amended Complaint filed on behalf of Plaintiffs
December 6, 2012: The City files a Motion to Dismiss in Hassan v. City of New York
January 25, 2013: Plaintiffs file their Opposition to the City’s Motion to Dismiss
February 25, 2013: The City files their Reply in Support of their Motion to Dismiss