December 15, 2016, New York – Today, attorneys from Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights slammed extremist Representative Peter King for his call to nationalize the fully discredited and unconstitutional NYPD Muslim surveillance program as he was leaving a meeting with Donald Trump. King, known for his far-right anti-Muslim statements, told reporters the U.S. needs to “lean forward” in its fight against terrorism, presumably by targeting entire communities based on their religion.
Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights brought a successful lawsuit on behalf American Muslims in New Jersey challenging the NYPD surveillance program that King praises. In 2011, the Associated Press reported that the New York City Police Department, under former Police Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, had been secretly spying on and mapping the Muslim community since 2002 in a program known as the Demographics Unit. By its own admission, the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims failed to produce even a single lead.
Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy said, “Peter King has always been part of the ugly fringe of the Republican Party that traffics in stereotype and discrimination. Blinded by their ignorance and bigotry, neither he nor President-Elect Trump recognizes the obvious: The NYPD suspicionless spying program has been thoroughly discredited and rightly abandoned: not only was it a complete failure in law enforcement terms, but three federal judges ruled it unconstitutional. Trump and King will find their bigoted vision of this country and our Constitution will not be accepted by the courts or the majority of the American people.”
“Rep. King is advising the President-elect to violate the Constitution. Let’s be clear: a federal appeals court has found the NYPD’s blanket surveillance program to be discriminatory and a violation of our values and the rule of law,” said Farhana Khera, Executive Director of Muslim Advocates. “If the President-elect intends to follow King’s advice and pursue unconstitutional policies, we’ll be prepared to take him to court, just as we have successfully done against the NYPD.”
In addition to extensive spying in New York, the AP reported the NYPD spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools, and two Muslim Student Associations in New Jersey alone. The Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates case Hassan v. City of New York challenging the program in New Jersey remains an active case following a soaring decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
The NYPD monitoring included video surveillance of mosques, photographing license plates, community mapping, and infiltration by undercover officers and informants of places of worship, student associations, and businesses. Internal NYPD documents, including a list of 28 “ancestries of interest,” reveal that the NYPD used racial and ethnic backgrounds as proxies to identify and target adherents to the Muslim faith.
The court recognized the ugly parallels between the targeting of Muslims in the post-9/11 era and the targeting of the Japanese in WWII, as well as other dangerous historical parallels. Invoking Justice Robert Jackson’s prescient dissenting opinion in the odious case upholding the internment of the Japanese, Korematsu v. United States, the court explained:
We believe that statement of Justice Jackson to be on the right side of history, and for a majority of us in quiet times it remains so . . . until the next time there is the fear of a few who cannot be sorted out easily from the many. Even when we narrow the many to a class or group, that narrowing—here to those affiliated with a major worldwide religion—is not near enough under our Constitution. “[T]o infer that examples of individual disloyalty prove group disloyalty and justify discriminatory action against the entire group is to deny that under our system of law individual guilt is the sole basis for deprivation of rights.” Id. at 240 (Murphy, J., dissenting).
What occurs here in one guise is not new. We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind. We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight—that “[l]oyalty is a matter of the heart and mind[,] not race, creed, or color.” Ex parte Mitsuye Endo, 323 U.S. 283, 302 (1944).
Hassan was initially filed by Muslim Advocates; the Center for Constitutional Rights and Gibbons, P.C. joined as co-counsel several months later. It is the first case to challenge the NYPD’s Muslim spying program.