What have been the results of news stories about the NYPD spying on CUNY Muslim student groups? Those accounts were part of the bigger news stories about the NYPD and CIA spying on Muslim New Yorkers and their communities, and they triggered outrage. The Associated Press and Columnist/Blogger Leonard Levitt’s NYPD Confidential reported the major stories that fueled countless other stories.


A November Update of Sorts

Foley Square was occupied by about 500 Muslims Friday, November 18, to protest against the NYPD/CIA spying on Muslim communities. An event organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the rally was scheduled for people to march, chant, pray and listen to speakers.

Those at Foley Square supported the protest, but also received information on how to stand up for their rights. “It was a great moment. A beginning of a popular movement for people standing up for their rights,” said Cyrus McGoldrick, CAIR-NY representative.

McGoldrick said it had been the first major rally since 9/11 and a very symbolic one for people to stand between all those court houses. The entrapment cases, titled Fort Dix Five, were the most important issues at the rally. Background information here and here. A 13-year-old girl spoke about how her father and two uncles being in jail for many years for a crime they did not commit. “These entrapment cases are a powerful statement to what we are trying to do,” McGoldrick said.

Danyah Jaber, 19, served as a MC for the rally and spoke about the demographic unit and where the NYPD were spying, including 250 mosques and 100 schools. The political science major and President of Students for Justice in Palestine said she had learned this information from an event held at Roosevelt Public Policy Institute at Hunter. The College’s Human Rights program organized a panel discussion about so-called “homegrown terrorism” since 9/11 and “what strategies can be used to vindicate their human and civil rights,” she said.

Jaber said that a variety of people were there, including high school students, college students, parents, elderly people, OWS people and leaders of the Muslim community. “It is good to let New Yorkers know what is going on,” she said.

The rally was peaceful and successful but this reporter wanted to know how CAIR managed to get police permits when the protest was being organized against NYPD. McGoldrick said in a phone interview that it was an ironic moment to have a meeting with the police and talk to them about the day. At the end of that meeting, he said, one officer asked for the name of the rally.

“I just laughed and said it is the rally and Friday prayer to stop NYPD and CIA repression on Muslim communities. The officer just said okay thanks and we walked out,” he said.

McGoldrick said many officers are just there to do their job. They are responsible for the decisions they make on the job but the issue is not left to the individual officers but to NYPD officials. “They are not just renegade officers who are going too far in their job. The department has taken upon itself to surveil far beyond the police activity that is sectioned by the law.”


Recapping

The Hunter Senate several days ago passed a resolution opposing the NYPD spying on CUNY students. Otherwise the myriad of stories about NYPD clashes resulted from the OCCUPY WALL STREET protest.

Among the numerous news reports in mid October about the NYPD spying on CUNY Muslim student groups were accounts that city officials should be able to “oversee” the NYPD infiltration of Muslim groups. It is still a disturbing fact to anyone outside of the NYPD that they could get away with this intrusion, and yet, many are not surprised it WAS happening.

New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said in an email to this reporter, “Nearly all Muslims in New York City are law-abiding, hard-working members of our community, and the revelation that the NYPD has conducted wide ranging surveillance of these community members is disturbing to a number of us in the City Council.”

On the flip side, Rodriguez, a Democrat whose constituents live in upper Manhattan, also said, “While I recognize the Police Department’s need to take all possible precautions to prevent another terrorist attack on our city, we must constantly balance these concerns with a respect for civil liberties. Past times of crisis have resulted in Americans losing some of their rights, so we have to be extremely careful to not repeat the mistakes of the past.” [November 15 news story: Rodrigeuz attacked, arrested by NYPD at a Zuccotti Park protest.]

According to an article on the news site capitalnewyork.com, Rodriguez had planned to hold a hearing of his own but in a strange manner. This article reported that “they will not mention the NYPD, security, or anything related to the topic of safety.” A date for this hearing has not yet been announced.

However, David Segal, a spokesperson for Ydanis Rodriguez, told this reporter that news statement was erroneous, that it was part of the reporter’s spin on the information and that City Council Committee would only be allowed to examine a narrow view during a hearing.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, according to its website, “is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.”

Darius Charney, Senior Staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that no one has asked the center for representation against the NYPD. “It is very difficult for ordinary people to take legal action against the police department and there is always a fear of retaliation,” he said in a phone interview. The Center is, according to its site, an advocate for advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Charney said that making this issue a publicized was one the biggest steps to make. He said it was possible to take legal action but the CCR was still talking to other groups for advocate action.

Charney said he was disturbed yet not surprised at the NYPD action. “It [NYPD spying on Muslims] is totally unsurprising that this has happened because the NYPD has unfettered authority to do whatever it wants.” He also referred to this comment to how they handled Occupy Wall Street, that is, as being absolutely ridiculous.

Professor John Hammond, a Hunter sociology professor, said that it has been clear since 9/11 and even before then that Muslims were under suspicion for being sources of terrorism. “This is just one particular discrimination against Muslims and unfair association between Muslims and the possibility on terrorism. It’s a pattern of repression of the NY police,” he said in a phone interview.

Comparing this issue to the recent OCCUPY WALL STREET demonstrations, he said, “It strikes me because I thought that they [mainstream news media] would be willing to cover a Muslim story but they don’t pay attention to everything all the time.”

“Occupy Wall Street is getting more coverage because it is more dramatic and people are being handled physically,” he also said. He was interviewed before the protestors were driven from Zuccotti Square.

When will a story be “good enough” to cover? When people are abused? Although Muslims seem to have avoided physical harm by the NYPD, the violating rights is still sinister. “The NYPD stubbornly refuse to acknowledge any mistakes and how significantly they can impact peoples’ lives negatively,” Charney said.

“Sometimes they [city officials] can make a difference, but I don’t think the NYPD has been fundamentally reformed that they should not be doing this,” Hammond said.

As CUNY awareness goes, a Hunter-L post in mid October by Arlene Spark, a Hunter representative to the CUNY University Faculty Senate forwarded an email from Sandi Cooper, Chair of the UFS, linking an article found on National Public Radio about NYPD spying.

Asked about how she felt about this issue, Spark said through in an email: “I regard it as one of my responsibilities to report to the faculty what I have learned both at Senate meetings and through the Senate listserv. Although, like every other faculty member, I have the right to express my views, as a Senate member I prefer to act as a conduit of information that allows my colleagues to make up their own minds rather than an opinion-shaper. As such, I will not comment on how I feel about the NYPD’s overt or covert presence on CUNY campuses.”

She directed this reporter to speak to Sandi Cooper, who replied in an email: “The UFS has not taken a position yet because we are still awaiting a report from engaged faculty who are closer to this situation than we are. I am having a meeting in a few days where this may come up but most CUNY faculty are unaware. I was waiting for fuller detail before posting information widely.”

Angela Burton, an associate professor at the CUNY School of Law, also a delegate to the UFS, said that the matter was on a agenda for discussion.

Hammond also said in a phone interview, “I think that it is the responsibility of the university [CUNY] to object to this investigation and do what it can to protect organizations and student groups and make a public statement and find out what is going on.”

“In order to create a secure New York, we need to build strong relationships between our communities and the NYPD, and this pattern of surveillance does the exact opposite for Muslim New Yorkers,” Charney of the CCR said.

Siuzdak’s earlier story: “A NYPD COINTELPRO Against Hunter Muslim Students?”

Colleen Siuzdak can be reached at csiuzdak@hunter.cuny.edu