Now that civil-rights advocates have learned that New York’s cops have been spying on New Haven-based Muslims, they want to know more.
The advocates gathered outside New Haven City Hall Tuesday afternoon to denounce New York police in the wake of an Associated Press expose revealing the department has crossed state lines to monitor Muslim groups in Connecticut. Among other activities, it has reportedly monitored the website of Yale’s Muslim Student Association.
The advocates called on municipal police officials throughout the state, including New Haven, to release detailed information on what they know about the NYPD’s local activities. Two of the civil-rights groups—the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut (ACLU)—announced they’ve launched a letter-writing campaign to that end. They also announced that they’ve filed Freedom of Information requests for more data in West Hartford, Bridgeport, Stamford, and Waterbury.
The press conference occurred 24 hours after another City Hall press conference critical of outside law enforcement agencies’ activities in town, condemning the federal government’s new “Safe Communities” immigrant-monitoring effort scheduled to begin Wednesday. (Read about that here.)
Tuesday’s press conference featured the reading of a statement by Yale President Richard Levin supporting the Yale Muslim Student Association (MSA) and criticizing the NYPD’s monitoring. (Read about NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s retort to Levin here.) The NYPD allegedly “trawled” “daily” through Muslim student websites at Yale and other campuses, according to the AP report. (Read it here.) In a 2006 “secret” memo (read it here), Officer Mahmood Ahmed lists student groups’ websites he was monitoring; it includes Yale’s MSA. He also reports on participants in an Islamic conference in Toronto, including a former Southern Connecticut State University professor an imam at New Haven’s Masjid al-Islam named Imam Zaid Shakir.
The AP story quoted an NYPD spokesman defending the surveillance. He said students shouldn’t worry about having “terrorism files” opened on them because they “advertised events or sent e-mails.”
Those words failed to reassure at least two Muslim students who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference.
“Wherever I go I feel eyes are looking at me,” said Yale student Wazhma Sadat (at center in photo). “When I send email to my family,” she worries about it being monitored, she added.
“We have the right to express our religion [and] have meals together without being fearful that someone is recording our names,” said Zaina Zayyad of Yale’s Muslim Student Association.
CAIR Executive Director Mongi Dhouadi argued that the surveillance “hangs a cloud over students who have done nothing wrong.” He also questioned whether anyone monitors the NYPD’s actions across state and international borders.
Advocates praised Yale President Rick Levin for the statement he released in a university-wide email at 9:25 p.m. Monday. “I am writing to state, in the strongest possible terms, that police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States,” he wrote in part. “Also I want to make sure our community knows that the Yale Police Department has not participated in any monitoring by the NYPD and was entirely unaware of NYPD activities until the recent news reports.”
While that’s welcome news, the ACLU still plans to file a Freedom of Information Act request to the Yale cops to obtain any file sit may have regarding contact with the NYPD about monitoring Muslims, according to ACLU Legal Director Sandy Staub.
New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman said Tuesday that he had no had no knowledge of the NYPD’s monitoring of Muslim students here.