Surveillance of Muslim students backlash: College faculty demands police chief resignation
Today, we along with more than 400 other faculty sent Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City a letter calling for the resignation of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul J. Browne. Faced with skyrocketing numbers of NYPD stop-and-frisks and revelations of the department’s widespread surveillance of Muslim life, in particular on college campuses throughout the city and the Northeast, we have joined other faculty to say enough is enough: Such rights abuses do not keep us safe, and they indiscriminately criminalize young people of color. The leadership that promoted these policies should face sanction.
According to Associated Press reports, in the decade since September 11, 2001, the New York Police Department transformed itself into a domestic counterintelligence unit. The NYPD Intelligence Division and its Demographics Unit engaged in extensive surveillance and mapping of Sunni and Shi’a Muslim communities in New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey. The department secretly monitored and sent undercover operatives to Muslim student associations at local colleges—Brooklyn, City, Baruch, Hunter, and Queens Colleges, and LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York, and St. John’s University—and universities around across the Northeast including Yale, Rutgers, Columbia, Princeton, Syracuse Universities, and NYU, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the University of Pennsylvania.
A 2007 NYPD report on radicalization and homegrown terrorism laid out the theory the department was operating under: Identifying terrorism before it started required identifying signs of dangerous radicalization. As signs of such radicalization, the report included giving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling, and the wearing of urban hip-hop gangster clothes; turning to traditional Islamic clothing; growing a beard; becoming involved in social activism and community issues. And thus the NYPD went whitewater rafting with students from SUNY at Buffalo, worried about “militant paintball trips” at Brooklyn College, and used its cyberunit to troll through student Web sites and chat rooms. It sent undercover operatives to take notes and ask questions at “ethnic hot spots” like restaurants and bookstores, and at mosques. All, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have repeatedly insisted, to keep us safe.
At the same time, the number of stop-and-frisks by the police has rocketed over the decade, reaching an all-time high in 2010 of 600,601 stops. Of those stops, 87 percent in 2010 were of black and Latino people. While the department claims that the stops are about fighting crime and maintaining public safety, only 0.13 percent of last year’s stops resulted in the discovery of a firearm, and only 7 percent resulted in arrests. Thus the greatest accomplishment of the stop-and-frisk policy has been to communicate to young black and Latino New Yorkers that they are all possible suspects, all the time.