NYPD settles lawsuit following illegal surveillance on Muslims

4th May 2018

Nadine Osman

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has agreed never to conduct faith-based surveillance and to initiate new training materials as part of a deal to settle claims it illegally spied on Muslim New Yorkers for years.

The surveillance program launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks never produced a terrorism lead as it spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail shops, two schools and two Muslim student associations in New Jersey

The settlement announced on April 5 by the city and the Muslim community also calls for the city to pay $75,000 in damages and nearly $1 million in legal fees. It also ensures surveillance in New Jersey will follow rules defined in another landmark civil rights case.

Farhana Khera, Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy and educational organisation, said, “Today’s settlement sends a message to all law enforcement: Simply being Muslim is not a basis for surveillance.”

US Army reservist and the lead plaintiff in the 2012 lawsuit, Farhaj Hassan, said, “We won this case, make no mistake about it. But as a member of the armed forces, I believe the United States won as well. No one likes to take on the cops. Cops are good” he said.

“But in this case, when cops were acting bad, it had to be done.”

The lawsuit came following an Associated Press exposé that revealed how the NYPD infiltrated Muslim student groups and put informants in mosques as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks. In New Jersey, the department collected intelligence on ordinary people at mosques, restaurants and schools starting in 2002.

The deal came after a Philadelphia appeals court in 2015 likened the surveillance program to when Japanese Americans were interned during World War II and discrimination before the racial unrest in the 1950s and 1960s forced to change.

Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said the settlement sends an important message at a time when the Trump administration’s ‘Muslim ban’ will come before the US Supreme Court and “full-throated racism and xenophobia is part of White House personnel and policy.”

“We hope that the decision sends a strong signal that profiling of the sort that consumes this White House is unconstitutional and there are communities who will mobilize and exert their growing power to challenge those activities and prevail,” Azmy said.

It bans the police department from conducting surveillance without suspicion on the basis of religion or ethnicity and calls for the Muslim litigants to provide input into a new policy guide to control the police department’s Intelligence Bureau. It also requires NYPD counter-terrorism probes in New Jersey to follow the Handschu Guidelines, which resulted from a 1971 lawsuit by the Black Panther Party alleging police engaged in widespread surveillance of legitimate political activity.
It also requires the city to pay $47,500 to businesses and mosques harmed by surveillance and $25,000 to individual plaintiffs in $5,000 increments. The city also will pay $950,000 in legal fees for plaintiffs.

“This settlement demonstrates a continued commitment by the NYPD to safeguard individual constitutional rights while keeping New York the safest city in America,” said Zachary Carter, the city’s top lawyer.

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