In its attempts to settle a federal court case regarding the surveillance of Muslim communities, the NYPD has conceded to greater, more vigorous oversight from an outside party. After a decade of spying on these communities, along with reckless disregard for constitutional freedoms, the department has come under increased scrutiny from the Federal District Court and Judge Charles S. Haight Jr.
The current settlement proposed by the city would give authority to a civilian lawyer appointed by the mayor to raise questions about ongoing investigations. It would also give the lawyer the power to report questionable behaviors or problems and file yearly objections with the courts.
Proponents of this proposition correctly believe that third-party oversight will help lead to a cutback in spying and other questionable tactics that violate federal laws. As a city and nation, it is necessary to move forward with increased regulation of police departments in order to eliminate racial profiling as well as the infringement on freedoms that have become all too common for New Yorkers.
Over the last decade, the NYPD has engaged in egregious surveillance and immoral racial profiling of Muslims and Muslim institutions. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NYPD, with the help of federal agencies, began using controversial investigative tactics.
The creation of the Demographics Unit only furthered the epidemic of racial profiling as it monitored Muslims and mosques, which it deemed to be “potential terrorist organizations.”
These tactics are constitutionally unacceptable and the introduction of an independent monitor for the NYPD will prevent future violations.
Police investigated entire communities because of a shared religion and regional origin, which constitutes racial profiling and constitute a violation of freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. Government interference in religious matters in this regard is blatant profiling and only serves to hurt the integrity of a nation that characterizes itself as “free.”
Opponents argue that more oversight would only encourage those who already pose a threat to safety. This assertion is demonstrably false.
The tactics used by the police department were ineffective in fighting the very “threat” that they were assigned to prevent. In 2012, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati indicated that he believed the spying done on conversations between Middle Easterners had not resulted in a single investigation.
He indicated that he “…never made a lead from rhetoric that came from a Demographics report … I don’t recall other ones prior to my arrival.” Individuals and locations were labeled as threats solely as a result of religion or language. The efforts by the NYPD have been ineffective in making the city safer from terrorism while simultaneously curbing the freedoms of many New Yorkers.
In addition, improved safety is not reason enough to act. For example, a mandatory curfew or the quartering of soldiers in private homes without consent may make citizens safer, but the cost of freedom was long ago deemed too high. One must consider this same reasoning as the United States decides if safety is justification for decreased accountability of the police force.
Opponents who argue that increased oversight of police will lead to increased danger also must consider the consequences of targeting innocent Muslims.
Extremist Muslim groups feed off ever-growing hatred toward the United States. The targeting of Muslims will serve as a recruitment tactic for these groups and may lead to even greater threats of terrorism.
Other objectors to increased police oversight may argue that transferring power to a civilian can be dangerous. Of course, there is the potential for outside or conflicting interests, but it is imperative that citizens empower a third party to have influence over a government entity that, without check, can wield unregulated and freedom-impinging power.
The decision to expand oversight of the police department will undoubtedly have implications beyond Muslim-American communities. It can also facilitate reduction in stop-and-frisk, a practice that has violated the rights of people of color.
Increased oversight has the potential to assuage many of the racial tensions that currently exist between civilians and police. It may also lead to a stricter adherence to the Handschu Guidelines, which limited police involvement in political activity.
Greater, more vigorous oversight is necessary to protect the freedoms of all U.S. citizens, especially in the world today where anger, fear and tension are at an all-time high.