NEW YORK – After years of struggle, American Muslims won a hard-fought victory Thursday against the New York Police Department over “a discriminatory surveillance program” implemented secretly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“The NYPD spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools, and two Muslim student associations in New Jersey alone,” Farhana Khera, executive director of the group Muslim Advocates, told reporters in a conference call on Thursday, Splinter News reported.
The program “never produced a single lead,” Khera also said.
In 2011 and 2012, the Associated Press published a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the NYPD’s efforts to spy on Muslim-Americans in New York and New Jersey after the attacks. The program started in 2002 or earlier and was disbanded in 2014.
After the AP story, a group of plaintiffs in New Jersey filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York for violating their First Amendment rights.
On Thursday, New York City agreed to a settlement with the plaintiffs in the case, Hassan v. New York.
“The settlement reflects a landmark challenge to religious profiling by law enforcement,” Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and lead attorney on the case, told reporters on the call.
“It holds the NYPD accountable for what it has done in the past, and promotes accountability to conform with basic constitutional principles in law enforcement into the future.”
Nevertheless, the police department rejected accusation it has broken the law by surveilling Muslim communities secretly in New Jersey.
“There’s been no admission of liability, no finding of wrongdoing by any court in New York, New Jersey or anywhere else,” Lawrence Byrne, deputy commissioner with NYPD’s legal division, said in the audio of the presser, which NYPD sent to Splinter.
“The case was settled in the interest of resolving a six-year-old litigation.”
Serving in the US Army Reserve for 16 years, Farhaj Hassan, the lead plaintiff in the case, said he decided to take NYPD to court after discovering that his mosque was the target of surveillance.
“We had an obligation and no other choice but to stand up and take the NYPD to court,” he told reported.
“People of color and other minorities have been cast aside when it comes to being treated by law enforcement,” Hassan said. “If you don’t know that to be true, it’s because you aren’t looking correctly, and you’re choosing to ignore the facts.”
Hassan added that he felt relieved the case was finally over.
“I did not know the wheels of justice were this slow, but it was worth it, and I’m proud of the outcome,” he said.
Meanwhile, Azmy, the lead attorney, said he hopes the settlement will send a message to the Trump administration.
“This settlement was concluded, we must recognize, in the age of Trump, where full-throated racism and xenophobia is part of White House personnel and policy,” he said.
“We hope the decision sends a strong signal, therefore, 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.”