Are Muslim communities being unfairly targeted by law enforcement? This is the conversation being raised after the New York Civil Liberties Union sought to revisit a 41-year old case.
You may have heard about news articles discussing NYPD’s surveillance and infiltration of New York-based Muslim groups. Last year, the Associated Press confirmed the existence of a program, called the Assessment Program, formerly known as the Demographics Unit, which spied on Muslims.
As way of background, in 1985, a Manhattan federal judge ordered a consent decree (known as “Handschu guidelines”) whereby the police is barred from investigating political and religious organizations without “specific information” linking the group to a crime. In that case, Handschu v. Special Services Division, the police had extensive dossiers on a large array of political groups, including the Black Panthers.
After 9-11, the judge loosened the Handschu guidelines to give police wider powers to investigate political groups in the war on terror.
The New York Civil Liberties Union released a memorandum, submitted to the court, seeking to end the NYPD’s Assessment Program. In the memorandum there is testimony stating that an informant was paid as much as $1,500 a month to take part in the NYPD’s alleged “create and capture” program. The informant stated,
This meant I was to pretend to be a devout Muslim and start an inflammatory conversation about jihad or terrorism and then capture the respond to sent to the NYPD.
I did this on numerous occasions with people I met at the mosques and other locations.
The question to be decided is – how much latitude law enforcement given when conducting surveillance of political and religious groups?
As a side note, you may have also come across the story regarding the FBI’s surveillance on Muslims groups, known as “Operation Flex.” That story has been reported in many news circles, including the Business Insider here.