Advocates for New York City’s Muslim community were in federal court in Philadelphia Tuesday, hoping to revive a lawsuit against the New York City Police Department.
The plaintiffs say the NYPD’s extensive undercover surveillance program of mosques and Muslim businesses, launched in the wake of 9/11, unconstitutionally targeted citizens based on their religion. A lower court dismissed the case, but a favorable ruling from the three-judge federal appeals panel would allow it to move forward.
Lead plaintiff Farhaj Hassan, a soldier in the Army Reserve, said that once word leaked that his mosque was under surveillance, he stopped going rather than risk his career by being named as a possible subject of investigation.
“The mosque I was going to was actually a progressive institution, with very patriotic Americans in there — three cops, a Marine and myself, a soldier,” Hassan said. “We’re the crux of America if anything. Too bad the New York City cops decided to surveil the place for no reason.”
He didn’t want to be in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. His attorneys argued that dozens of other mosques and businesses also lost support for the same reason.
“We were able to point to a decrease in mosque attendance, decrease in mosque contributions, decrease in property values,” said Glenn Katon, an attorney representing the Muslim plaintiffs.
“These were not just subjective fears in people’s heads, but these were concrete injuries,” Katon said.
New York police don’t deny that they secretly watched hundreds of mosques and Muslim business in and around New York City, including parts of New Jersey, in the years following 9/11. But New York officials have defended the surveillance program, saying they were looking for terrorists — not specifically targeting Muslims – and that the police did not force anyone to leave their mosque, meaning that any harm experienced by Hassan or others like him was self-inflicted.cluding parts of New Jersey,
The program produced no arrests. And there is no word on when the federal appeals court will rule on the case.