Let's daydream a bit. What if, instead of screening anti-Muslim propaganda like The Third Jihad during departmental trainings, spying on Muslim student groups and continuing to stop and frisk Black and Latino teens on their way to school, the NYPD learned to stop and think before acting on racist stereotypes?
The sad reality is that constitutional rights figure far more prominently in the NYPD's Mission Statement than in its practice. And it has been up to communities targeted by the NYPD organizing en masse and groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights fighting in court to protect our rights.
One would think that after tens of thousands of New Yorkers marched time and time again in the 16 years since the shooting of Amadou Diallo to decry police abuse, the NYPD might have implemented some changes to their discriminatory policing. But instead, they were too busy stopping and frisking more than half a million New Yorkers a year, infiltrating and raiding Occupy Wall Street, and funneling resources into the warrantless surveillance of Muslim Americans across several states.
Recently, the Center for Constitutional rights proudly joined another effort to end the NYPD's violations of constitutional rights. CCR has joined Muslim Advocates in their lawsuit challenging the NYPD's discriminatory surveillance of Muslim communities in New Jersey.
This case involves the NYPD sending officers to spy on an elementary school for Muslim girls, to lurk outside mosques during Friday prayers, to infiltrate Muslim student groups, and to record whether a grocery store carries food products labeled "halal" in order to keep track of every corner of the Muslim community.
The NYPD has conducted surveillance in New Jersey of at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools and two Muslim Student Associations, including the people who own, operate, and visit them. The NYPD's program singles out Muslims for surveillance without any evidence of wrongdoing, and the only thing our clients have in common is their religion. Which we believe makes the program unconstitutional. One of this country's founding principles is to protect people from being targeted for their religion.
These abuses of power, just like stop-and-frisk, are the result of problematic policies that Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have repeatedly defended. It is time for the NYPD to stop training its officers in race-based and religion-based policing and to start educating them about the rights of those they serve. Protecting rights is an integral part of protecting communities. Keeping our city safe and treating all people with dignity and respect are not mutually exclusive. The NYPD should stop and think about that.