April 5, 2018
Issue: Law Enforcement Bias
Settlement Reached in NYPD Muslim Surveillance Lawsuit
New Jersey Muslims Reach Landmark Settlement Requiring NYPD to End Unlawful Spying Activities
New York, NY – Today, a group of Muslim owned businesses, mosques, individuals, and student groups have finalized a settlement agreement with the New York Police Department (NYPD) in Hassan v. City of New York, a federal lawsuit challenging the suspicionless, discriminatory surveillance of American Muslims in New Jersey. Filed in 2012 in federal court in New Jersey, Hassan was the first lawsuit brought on behalf of American Muslims unlawfully surveilled under the NYPD’s program. The plaintiffs are represented by Muslim Advocates, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Gibbons P.C.
As a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning reports by the AP revealed, under the surveillance program, the NYPD spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools, and two Muslim Student Associations in New Jersey. The monitoring included video surveillance, photographing license plates, community mapping, and infiltration by undercover officers and informants at places of worship, student associations, and businesses. Internal NYPD documents, including a list of 28 “ancestries of interest,” revealed that the NYPD used racial and ethnic backgrounds as proxies to identify and target adherents to Islam. By its own admission, the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims failed to produce a single lead.
“We are proud that we stood up to the most powerful police force in the country and against the suspicion and ignorance that guided their discmininatory practices,” said Farhaj Hassan, lead plaintiff in the case. “We believe the legal rulings and settlement in this case will endure as part of a broader effort to hold this country to account for its stated commitment and its obligation to uphold religious liberty and equality.”
Settlement discussions commenced soon after the federal appeals court in Philadelphia issued a stinging rebuke of the NYPD’s alleged religious profiling, likening the stigmatic injury plaintiffs suffered to those at issue in Brown v. Board of Education and likening the rationale behind the NYPD’s claimed authority to surveil to the government’s treatment of “Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the NYPD has confirmed it will reform its discriminatory and unlawful practices by agreeing to:
- Not engage in suspicionless surveillance on the basis of religion or ethnicity;
- Permit plaintiff input to a first-ever Policy Guide, which will govern the Intelligence Bureau’s activities, and to publish the Guide to the public;
- Attend a public meeting with plaintiffs so they can express their concerns about the issues in the lawsuit directly to the NYPD Commissioner or senior ranking official;
- Pay businesses and mosques damages for income lost as a result of being unfairly targeted by the NYPD and pay individuals damages for the stigma and humiliation harms they suffered for being targeted on the basis of their religion.
“Today’s settlement marks a monumental victory for American Muslim communities far and wide who have demanded fair and equal treatment by law enforcement,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates. “The message to police departments from coast to coast is loud and clear: you cannot treat someone as a suspect based on their faith. The plaintiffs are incredibly courageous Americans who were willing to step forward and stand up for their rights and in turn the rights of all Americans. They follow in the path of Linda Brown, Rosa Parks, and other brave Americans who have fought systemic discrimination – and won.”
“The Hassan settlement exemplifies the power of coordinated legal action and community mobilization and it cautions law enforcement everywhere to abandon identity-based policing in all its forms,” said Omar Farah, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Attempting to predict criminality on the basis of race or religion is repugnant and it never works – except to humiliate and criminalize targeted communities. We are deeply indebted to the Hassan plaintiffs and the Muslim communities behind the Raza and Handschu cases for picking up the mantle in the fight for equality under the law; the reforms and accountability the settlements produced will outlast this moment of virulent, White House–sponsored racism, xenophobia, and anti-Muslim bigotry.”
Hassan was initially filed by Muslim Advocates; the Center for Constitutional Rights and Gibbons, P.C. later joined as co-counsel. It was the first case to challenge the NYPD’s Muslim spying program. For more information about the case, please visit www.muslimadvocates.org/endspying and http://www.ccrjustice.org/hassan. Watch a video about the case here. To hear a recording of the press call on the settlement, click here.
Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths.
The Center for Constitutional Rights 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. Visit www.ccrjustice.org; follow @theCCR.