In his news conference, Bloomberg was dismissive regarding the concerns raised about the NYPD's activities. He acknowledged that the department had to "respect people's right to privacy" but argued that the NYPD had not violated that right. Confusingly, he also said that the NYPD had to be "proactive" and pursue "allegations" -- though, again, no such allegations have come to light.
These revelations have produced tremendous frustration and disappointment in Muslim communities. On Feb. 20, the Muslim community at New York University held a students-only town-hall meeting to consider how to respond to NYPD actions. On Feb. 22, Columbia University held an open town hall that allowed many Muslim students to vent their concerns and fears. Similar discussions are taking place across the region.
Some might argue that the damage to American Muslims' trust in the U.S. policing system caused by the NYPD's activities is a necessary evil -- a bearable cost in order to keep the city safe. They could hardly be more wrong.
The NYPD's tactics have failed to yield any benefits to American security, in part because of the police force's faulty assumption that religiosity causes terrorism. The equation of Islam with violence is the reason the NYPD believes it must spy on all Muslims. But this is ignorance masquerading as police work.
University of North Carolina sociologist Charles Kurzman has found that a remarkably small number of Muslims actually "radicalize," to use the common term, and subsequent research has demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims reject terrorism. Gallup has also conducted polls finding that the more religious a Muslim is, the less likely he or she is to find violence attractive.
By undermining its relationship with American Muslims, the NYPD also risks making the United States less safe. Every U.S. law enforcement agency may have missed Faisal Shahzad, who tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, but an immigrant Muslim vendor alerted authorities to the smoking SUV and in doing so saved many lives. He's not alone. Blogger Aziz Poonawalla has exhaustively detailed the immense contributions American Muslims make to U.S. national security. For example, in the years following the 9/11 attacks, 40 percent of domestic terrorist plots by Muslims have been foiled through tips and assistance from American Muslims themselves. Since 2009, that number has jumped to 50 percent.
New York officials need to repair the damage that the NYPD has already done and take steps to ensure that its destructive tactics aren't repeated. Bloomberg should acknowledge the NYPD's wrongdoing, reveal the true scope of its clandestine activities, apologize for the real pain and harm it has caused, and establish a mechanism of civilian oversight to ensure that such activities do not take place again.
Targeting American Muslims for no other reason than their faith, across New York and the region -- it's worrying enough for Americans' civil liberties. But the NYPD's behavior also widens a worrying gap between law enforcement and the American Muslim community. "If you see something, say something," the NYPD tells us. But what happens when you have good reason to fear that if you say something, you'll be the object of suspicion instead?
Let's imagine you're a young, alienated, impressionable Muslim college kid. Every day you hear common stereotypes about Islam and Muslims; when you turn on the news, all you see is inaccurate conflations of Islam with violence. You feel nobody understands you or your faith. There are only a few people you can talk to, who you trust will understand you, treat you with dignity and respect, and act with your best interests in mind. They probably include your local imam or college chaplain.
But you won't ask the awkward questions if you believe everything you say is spied on, the places you go are monitored, and the police assume, based on your name or faith, that you are a danger to society.
Whom, then, will you turn to? And how does that make us any safer?