Muslim-Americans who sued over NYPD spying at New Jersey mosques are embarking on a new strategy in their fight against the surveillance.
The plaintiffs in the case will file an appeal, a month after a judge dismissed their claim that the Police Department spying was unconstitutional because it focused on religion.
Beyond that, they’re turning up the heat on Mayor de Blasio.
“Today we take this important legal fight against police discrimination to the next round,” said Glenn Katon, legal director of Muslim Advocates, an organization representing the plaintiffs, referring to the appeal of the lawsuit’s dismissal.
The court battle involves surveillance practices launched under the Bloomberg administration. Starting in 2002, the NYPD snooped on ordinary people in at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, two grade schools and other locations, according to the lawsuit filed in 2012.
Now that de Blasio has turned the tide on stop-and-frisk, the controversial police policy criticized for racial profiling, he should also scrap NYPD spying on Muslims, said Baher Azmy, legal director for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which is also representing the plaintiffs.
“The de Blasio administration has already disavowed racial profiling in the context of stop-and-frisk,” Azmy said. “We certainly hope it disallows religious profiling in the case of Muslim surveillance as well. These are equivalent and illegal practices.”
In tossing out the lawsuit in February, Newark Federal Judge William Martini said there was no evidence the NYPD’s intelligence unit chose its targets “solely because of their religion.”
“The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies,” Martini wrote. “The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself.”
“The motive for the program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but to find Muslim terrorists hiding among the ordinary law-abiding Muslims,” the judge added.
The ruling outraged many civil rights advocates and frustrated Farhaj Hassan, a plaintiff in the case and a US soldier who completed a tour in Iraq.
The 37-year-old Army reservist said mosques he attended were spied on.
“Myself and other Muslim-Americans have dedicated their lives to the US and the actions by the NYPD aren’t indicative or reflective of the America we chose to serve,” Hassan said. “The judge has said all Muslims can be treated as second-class citizens.”
The soldier said he believes the appeal will succeed. “We have the truth on our side,” Hassan said.