Since just after 9/11 the NYPD has devoted a specific unit of its force to spying only on Muslims in New York and New Jersey. Today, the department announced that it is doing away with the program.
The unit—known as the Demographics Unit—clandestinely surveilled the Muslim community by eavesdropping on conversations in order to gather intelligence on places where they congregated. A story on the group in New York outlined exactly what that meant:
The routine was almost always the same, whether they were visiting a restaurant, deli, barbershop, or travel agency. The two rakers would enter and casually chat with the owner. The first order of business was to determine his ethnicity and that of the patrons. This would determine which file the business would go into. A report on Pakistani locations, for instance, or one on Moroccans. Next, they'd do what the NYPD called "gauging sentiment." Were the patrons observant Muslims? Did they wear traditionally ethnic clothes, like shalwar kameez? Were the women wearing hijabs?
On their way out, the rakers would look at bulletin boards. Was a rally planned in the neighborhood? The rakers might attend. Was there a cricket league? The rakers might join. If someone advertised a room for rent, the cops would tear off a tab with the address or phone number. It could be a cheap apartment used by a terrorist.
The Muslim community felt obviously violated by the constantly peering eyes of the NYPD, and the Demographics Unit eventually became the subject of two federal lawsuits. One of those suits was scuttled a few months ago, when a federal judge ruled that the practice was protected by the law and not in violation of civil rights.
Nonetheless, the damage has been done. The unit uncovered no leads and generated no cases, and further engendered mistrust in Muslims in the New York area. Bill de Blasio—and his police chief Bill Bratton, pictured above—have righted a wrong, assuming the duties of the Demographics Unit are not merely shifted. But one figures it is too little, too late.
[image via Getty]