While the death of Osama bin Laden might have brought closure to some of those associated with the life-changing events of 9/11, a legacy of suspicion against the Muslim community has lingered and has possibly coloured even law enforcement agencies such as the New York Police Department with deep-seated prejudices.
At least this is what appeared to be the case in the unfolding saga of an AP news agency scoop, which over the last few months has revealed details in a series of secret reports by the NYPD showing that the police had collected information on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims. “They show in the clearest terms yet that police were monitoring people based on religion, despite claims from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the contrary,” AP argued, citing statements in the top-secret documents indicating that police “put the names of innocent people in secret files and monitored the mosques, student groups and businesses that make up the Muslim landscape of the Northeastern U.S.”
The NYPD further found itself in the dock after a top Obama administration official, Attorney-General Eric Holder joined the chorus of disapprobation and said at a Congressional hearing earlier this week that he found news of the NYPD's actions “disturbing.” Mr. Holder also noted, “These are things that are under review at the Justice Department.”
The surveillance was said to have included attempts to monitor and collect data at about 250 mosques, schools, and businesses throughout the city, “simply because of their religion and not because they exhibited suspicious behaviour”.
However in the months that followed AP's first revelations, the issue was aggravated by the fact that Mr. Bloomberg and police Commissioner Ray Kelly reportedly defended the NYPD's aggressive programmes to infiltrate Muslim neighbourhoods. “We don't stop to think about the religion... We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there,” Mr. Bloomberg was quoted as saying at a news conference in August.
Yet AP said that in late 2007, plainclothes officers at the NYPD's “secretive Demographics Unit” were assigned to investigate the region's Syrian population. Police reportedly photographed businesses, eavesdropped at lunch counters and inside grocery stores and pastry shops. “The resulting document listed no threat. And though most people of Syrian heritage living in the area were Jewish, Jews were excluded from the monitoring,” the report said.
“This report will focus on the smaller Muslim community,” AP said regarding the report, adding that, similarly, the NYPD had excluded the city's sizable Coptic Christian population when photographing, monitoring and eavesdropping on Egyptian businesses in 2007.