New York protest against police targeting of Muslims

About 150 demonstrators gathered in Foley Square on Friday afternoon to give voice to a growing list of complaints against the NYPD and police commissioner Ray Kelly for targeted surveillance of New York Muslims.

The Friday protest was coordinated by nonprofit Muslim advocacy organization Majilis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York and Desis Rising Up and Moving, a Jackson Heights-based organization which advocates for the civil rights of South Asian immigrants. Among the demonstrators were also Occupy protesters and interfaith leaders, as well as some local elected officials. Some speakers called for more accountability by the police; others called for Kelly and Browne to step down.

It was the second rally to protest the department’s Muslim-specific policies in as many weeks. The day before, the Associated Press had written about an internal department document suggesting the department targeted Shi’ite mosques for surveillance. That countered Kelly’s previous assertion that Muslim communities weren’t targeted by religion.

There was also unresolved tension about the commissioner’s appearance in anti-Muslim film The Third Jihad, which was eventually revealed to have been shown to over a thousand officers, contrary to the initial claims of a department spokesman.

City Councilman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther (who is not Muslim), delivered the rally’s most provocative speech. “Don’t be angry at the social forecaster,” he said. “Just like you don’t get angry at the weatherman for forecasting the storm, you don’t blame them for the storm. Don’t blame me, the social forecaster, for telling you if you don’t get your act together, there’s going to be an uprise in New York City that you’ve never seen before. And you will not be allowed to govern us anymore.”

Councilmembers Melissa Mark-Viverito and Ydanis Rodriguez, who spoke later, were less blunt. Rodriguez called the film-screening a hate crime. He stopped short of calling for Kelly’s resignation, instead asking for an independent investigation by the Justice Department.

Rodriguez said he identified with being targeted, because as a Dominican-born resident of Washington Heights in the 1980s, some police officers lumped him in with drug dealers. He said the video could indoctrinate new officers into thinking all Muslims are criminals. Whoever was responsible for the screening of the video, Rodriguez said, “should be in jail.”

Later, Councilman Daniel Dromm recalled a recent Council hearing in which Kelly denied profiling Muslim communities. “I asked him if he has a map of the Irish communities,” Dromm said. “Does he have a map of all the Irish pubs in Sunnyside? And of course he didn’t.”

He said yesterday’s AP article directly contradicted what he was told by Kelly and the police department. “In both cases, about profiling the communities and about the showing of the film, the people of New York have not heard the truth, and police are required to tell the truth,” he said.

Cyrus McGoldrick, who works with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, pointed out an inscription across the street on the New York County Supreme Court. “Read this with me,” he told the crowd. “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” He asked the crowd whether the situation marked either justice or good government, and got back yells of “no.”

After more speakers, the group people marched across the street to police headquarters at One Police Plaza. There, surrounded by police, news photographers and legal observers in green caps, they chanted for ten minutes. Then the group headed under the archway of the City Municipal Building, where their echoes were presumably heard above by city employees.

One marcher was a 75-year-old who would only provide his last name, Saddiqi. He said he was a former engineer who came to the U.S. from India 40 years ago. His hands shivered in the cold. “This is the general trend of the police department,” he said. “They think that every Muslim is criminal, which is not true. We are peaceful people. Maybe everywhere there are some bad sheep, but everybody is not a criminal.”

As the rally ended, it was getting darker and colder, and the media and many of the protesters had left. Two dozen remaining protesters faced eastward, coincidentally toward the courthouse pointed out by McGoldrick, and stretched out into three rows. Then they knelt to pray.

Capital New York, 4 February 2012