Thursday, December 18, 2014

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City Disbands NYPD's Muslim Surveillance Division

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The city has disbanded an New York City Police Department surveillance division created to spy on Muslim communities.

The Demographics Unit kept tabs on Muslims by having plainclothes officers eavesdrop on conversations in public places.

The NYPD said the unit had been largely inactive since January, and officers were reassigned.

It was at the center of the Bloomberg administration's post-September 11 intelligence-gathering policies.

The NYPD said the information the unit gathered can be collected through direct outreach instead.

Some Muslim activists, however, said they're still wary.

"Just because they disbanded the unit dedicated to the suspicion-less surveillance doesn't mean that they will necessarily suspend all kinds of suspicion-less surveillance by the NYPD, and we all have to remain vigilant, because no matter who is doing the suspicion-less surveillance within the NYPD, it is unlawful," said Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

"I think the concern remains that the NYPD may rename the unit, may house another unit outside the intelligence division but still conduct the same policies of profiling" said Faiza Ali of the Arab American Association of New York.

As news of the disbanded NYPD unit spread Tuesday, reaction in Bay Ridge - a community with a large Muslim population - was mixed. 

"I think we should have the same rights. I don't think our government should judge us for our culture or religion," said one Muslim resident.

"I don't care, they can look around, it's nothing to worry, as long as you're not doing nothing wrong," said another Muslim resident.

In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "Our administration has promised the people of New York a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair. This reform is a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys."

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the program, saying it was constitutionally protected.

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