Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rebecca Henely

A CUNY School of Law project released a report last week saying the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims in the city has bred self-censorship and distrust of others in the community.

The report, “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and Its Impact on American Muslims,” was written by the School of Law’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility Project and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund with oversight from the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition.

Diala Shamas, a staff attorney at CLEAR, said the report was conceived after the Associated Press wrote a series of stories about the NYPD sending informants into mosques, hookah bars and Muslim student associations — some outside the city — to listen for radical activity.

Shamas said reporters who took part in the initial media coverage did not talk much to the Muslim community.

“We wanted to give the communities an opportunity to show how they’re affected by surveillance,” Shamas said.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

The department has said the AP report was filled with inaccuracies and contended the NYPD Intelligence Division has been crucial in foiling terrorist plots.

CUNY School of Law is at 2 Court Square in Long Island City and Shamas said many of the 57 interview subjects were Queens residents, with others coming from the other boroughs as well as Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. Shamas, one of the principal interviewers along with Nermeen Arastu of the defense fund, said the report was not trying to compile a statistical analysis of how the Muslim community felt about the NYPD’s actions but wanted a range of opinions.

“One of the surprising things were how the consequences were felt across the board regardless of income, immigration status, education level, profession, any of that,” Shamas said.

The interviewees mainly said the NYPD surveillance discouraged them from being more openly religious, from engaging in any political speech or activism, from trusting their neighbors since they could be possible NYPD informants and from talking to the police.

“It’s not like everybody stopped going to mosque — it’s just that everybody looks around wondering who everyone else is,” Queens activist Faisal Hashmi said in the report.

One 23-year-old Queens resident identified as Grace in the report said when she was 16 NYPD officers met her at her public school, came to her house a few weeks later and searched through her belongings and computer, and then offered her work as an informant.

Another Queens College student, who wears a face veil, said her mother had discouraged her from wearing all black, fearing it would draw police scrutiny.

A Queens business owner also said in the report that because of the surveillance some Muslim residents have stopped using common expressions, like an Arabic one that means excitement but it could be translated as “explode.”

The report recommended the NYPD end the surveillance and called for more oversight and auditing of the department from city and state entities.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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