NYPD profiling Muslims perpetuates stereotypes

Karl Sadkowski/Opinion Editor

Many of “New York’s Finest” have just been put into question. The New York Police Department (NYPD), the largest police department in the United States, works primarily in New York City’s five boroughs and monitors and controls every kind of illegal activity in the area. On Wednesday of last week, however, New Jersey’s Newark Mayor Cory Booker demanded state authorities begin a deeper investigation in the NYPD’s activities in Newark’s Muslim neighborhoods.

Since mid-2007, the NYPD has spied on Muslims in Newark and elsewhere in the Northeast — including Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania — photographing mosques and many Muslim businesses and eavesdropping on their visitors. Newark’s Muslims are profiled in a 60-page guidebook recently obtained by the Associated Press.

But the police’s espionage goes deeper than taking photographs and listening in on conversations. Detailed reports on some Muslims provide information such as where they live, where they work and where they are likely to buy food.

The Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 most definitely sparked this secrecy for fear of future terrorist attacks. To the NYPD’s wasted efforts, however, no suspicious Muslims were discovered in Newark or anywhere else in the Northeast. Officers may just as well have bugged Christian churches and listened to hundreds of Sunday masses.

Police surveillance regulates crime and protects many, but when it grows as tall as Big Brother, it causes trouble. After discovering they were being watched, some outraged Muslims wondered why the NYPD didn’t just ask its questions directly. Abdul A. Muhammad, the imam of the Newark Masjid Ali Muslim mosque, asked, “You want to come in? We have an open door policy.”

Booker said no person should ever be watched indiscriminately because of the way he prays. He calls it “a very unfortunate situation” in which people are being targeted “based upon nothing but their religion.” Further investigation of the NYPD’s activity is underway.

A great deal of deserved heat has burned the NYPD. People rely on the police to protect communities and rid them of crime, and now that Newark’s Muslims know they’ve been on the NYPD’s “potential criminals” list for nothing else but their religion, they feel betrayed. No kidding. So would I. It’s understandable that the NYPD’s goal in this scheme was to catch terrorists, but this displays a complete lack of trust and suspicion for all innocent Muslims. As for the actual terrorists — whoever they are — this event has probably stirred in them even more animosity toward the United States as a whole.

Remember last year’s July 22 terrorist attacks in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik? He was responsible for a car bomb in Oslo that killed eight people and injured 92, and later a shooting rampage at a summer camp that killed 69. This was the most violent massacre to occur in Norway since the Second World War. Breivik, a Christian right-wing extremist, committed the killings mainly to market his written manifesto outlining his (Hitleresque) worldview. He is now being held in jail until his trial in April.

I write this to explain that Islam is not the only religion associated with historic terrorist attacks. The NYPD may have just wasted five years of its time committing unethical work while it let slip by the rising “Breiviks” in Newark or elsewhere. So why should the god a person prays to determine whom the police spies on?

For the record, the NYPD’s efforts discovered no would-be terrorists. Religious profiling can be remarkably misleading.

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