South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) joins a broad array of organizations and communities in expressing deep concerns regarding ongoing reports revealing the New York City Police Department (NYPD)’s practices that have resulted in targeted surveillance of Muslim community members. During late 2011 and early 2012, a series of reports by the Associated Press came to light regarding NYPD practices with a discriminatory focus on Muslims communities both within and well beyond New York City. NYPD activities allegedly included the construction of secret files on Muslims, even outside of New York City; infiltration of Muslim student groups at universities across the Northeast, including Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; monitoring of Shia mosques based on their religion; continuous and widespread screenings during police trainings of the film, The Third Jihad, which proclaimed that Muslims want to “infiltrate and dominate” the United States; and, with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), spying and demographic mapping of Muslims in the city.
What does this mean in the real lives of Muslim community members? It means undercover agents sneaking into a Muslim student organization’s whitewater rafting trip to record students’ names and how often they prayed. It means the NYPD seeking a rundown from the local taxi commission of every Pakistani cab driver in the city. It means police stopping and questioning community members simply based how they look and what faith they practice. It means the NYPD receiving and collecting information from informants about Muslim community members who visit neighborhood establishments.
Simply being Muslim makes you a suspect in the NYPD’s eyes. And it’s not a matter of it being merely a series of “one-off” instances. Rather, this shows that systemic discrimination has been ingrained within the culture and practices of the NYPD. SAALT has joined communities and allies at the local and national level in calling for accountability from the NYPD – including encouraging community members to attend rallies, urging investigations by the New York State and New Jersey Attorney Generals’ offices, and raising the issue with administrative agencies and members of Congress. These activities have been called into question by members of Congress and New Jersey Governor Christie. Most recently, Attorney General Eric Holder testified before Congress that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will being reviewing complaints received on this matter. We welcome this initial step by the Department of Justice yet also urge the agency to conduct a complete and thorough investigation based on its authority to look into civil rights violations as outlined in federal civil rights laws.
As startling as these reports are, it is hardly news for many South Asians, Arabs, Muslims, and Sikhs in New York City and beyond. Rather, it confirmed what community members have already known and experienced since September 11th – whether in the context of interactions with local law enforcement, flying while brown, or in the arena of immigration enforcement. In collaboration with six organizations based in New York City – Coney Island Avenue Project, Council of Peoples Organization, DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving, The Sikh Coalition, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!), UNITED SIKHS – SAALT will be releasing a documentation report that conveys the human impact of religious and racial profiling on South Asians in the city in community members’ own words. Discrimination deserves no place in American society – but our community’s experiences show that it is alive and well. It is time for the government to ensure that all communities are kept safe – rather than suspected.