Some City Council members joined civil rights activists in questioning the NYPD Thursday, alleging that the department illegally spies on the city’s Muslim community despite claims to the contrary from Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. NY1’s Michael Herzenberg filed the following report.
City Councilman Daniel Dromm tried to drive home his concerns to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly Thursday at an oversight hearing about published reports and documents that seem to show the New York City Police Department is targeting certain ethnicities.
“I’m asking you a very specific question: do you have one of the Irish community, do you have one of the Greek community? How many communities have you mapped out in the same way that you’ve mapped out the Muslim community?” said Dromm.
“We don't do it ethnically, we do it geographically," said Kelly.
Representatives from the New York Civil Liberties Union asked a federal Judge Monday to force the NYPD to release information on its surveillance of Muslims to see if it's spying and violating the law.
"The NYPD has been spying on entire neighborhoods based solely on who lives there and what their religious beliefs are,” said Udi Ofer of the NYCLU. "We know the NYPD is watching us: the question is, who is watching the NYPD?"
Before the hearing, they joined elected officials, the Brennan Center for Justice and Muslims in asking the City Council to act.
"They're giving the tickets — unfair tickets," said Osman Chowdhury, a cab driver who claims the police keep tabs on him because of his Bangladeshi roots.
Inside the hearing, however, Kelly seemed to dispute that claim.
"We don't racially profile, we follow leads wherever those leads take us," said Kelly.
The commissioner maintains his department goes beyond what the law requires in protecting civil liberties.
He also claims that a class action federal lawsuit called the Handschu Case provides guidelines and procedures and what he calls “independent oversight” with two people: one from inside the department and one from outside the department appointed by the mayor.
The NYCLU is asking the council to find out specifics about possible surveillance of innocent Muslims, and it's also asking a federal judge to dig for answers.