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Justin Elliott: Revelations on NYPD Surveillance of Muslims Contradict Mayor

February 27, 2012

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new york mosque.jpgPhotograph via Flickr by M. Jeremy Goldman

NYPD may have scrutinized Muslim communities based solely on ethnicity.

By **Justin Elliott**

By arrangement with ProPublica.

The Associated Press published a story today detailing how, in 2007, undercover New York Police Department officers investigated the Muslim community in Newark, N.J., producing a secret report profiling mosques, Islamic schools and Muslim-owned businesses and restaurants.

The story, based on a copy of the 60-page report obtained by AP, concludes that the surveillance project was undertaken despite “no evidence of terrorism or criminal behavior. It was a guide to Newark’s Muslims.”

The report mapped so-called Locations of Concern in Newark, which were defined to include “Localized center[s] of activity for a particular ethnic group.

Besides being significant on its own, that conclusion contradicts claims by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year about how the NYPD operates.

In August, after AP published the first story in its series documenting the NYPD’s extensive surveillance and investigation of Muslims, Bloomberg denied that the NYPD launched investigations based on religion in the absence of suspicion of a crime.

“If there are threats or leads to follow, then the NYPD’s job is to do it. The law is pretty clear about what’s the requirement, and I think they follow the law,” Bloomberg said at an Aug. 25 news conference, the local news site DNAInfo noted at the time. “We don’t stop to think about the religion. We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there.”

In October, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly made similar comments under questioning from the city council.

“We simply follow leads,” Kelly said. “Now, those leads may take us into religious institutions; it may be people in a particular religion. But we’re going to follow those leads wherever they take us. We’re not going to be deterred, but we’re certainly not singling out any particular group.”

AP’s previous stories showed the NYPD scrutinized Muslim communities in part based on ethnicity. Today’s story, as well as others earlier this month, showed the NYPD focusing solely on religion.

The secret dossier on Newark published by AP shows the NYPD both thinking about religion and singling out a particular group in the apparent absence of any leads.

The report mapped so-called Locations of Concern in Newark, which were defined to include “Localized center[s] of activity for a particular ethnic group.” The only ethnic groups that are highlighted in the report are those that include Muslims. The report noted that the city’s “largest immigrant communities … are from Portugal and Brazil” but that “No Muslim component within these communities was identified.”

Bloomberg’s press office did not respond to our request for comment about the mayor’s August remarks and the new AP report. The NYPD also did not respond to our request for comment; nor did it comment on the AP’s story.

The report includes multiple maps marking mosques and Islamic schools in Newark like this one:

nypd_mapPhotograph via ProPublica

It also includes a one-page guide to each Muslim institution, with a picture and basic information such as name, address, phone number — and two categories for “sect” and “imam.” A section of the report that includes a similar guide to Muslim businesses includes comments like “location has a donation box inside for unknown Masjid” (the Arabic term for a mosque) and “location is a small restaurant that serves Halal food.”

This week, Bloomberg echoed his August remarks following another AP report on the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim Student Associations at colleges around the Northeast despite the absence of suspicions of criminal activity.

“The police department goes where there are allegations. And they look to see whether those allegations are true,” Bloomberg said. “That’s what you’d expect them to do. That’s what you’d want them to do. Remind yourself when you turn out the light tonight.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, called AP’s report “disturbing” and said the state attorney general is investigating.

________________________________________________________________________

By arrangement with ProPublica.

Justin Elliott is a reporter forProPublica.

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