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Appeals Court Reinstates Lawsuit Over NYPD Surveillance Of Muslims

In this photo taken in 2011, worshippers are pictured inside the Al-Iman Mosque after midday prayers in the Queens borough of New York. The NYPD disbanded the special unit tasked with carrying out surveillance of Muslim groups in 2014
Charles Dharapak
Associated Press

A federal appeals court has reinstated a civil rights lawsuit against the New York Police Department that accuses police of spying on Muslims in New Jersey.

A three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed a lower court's ruling last year that found police did not violate the rights of Muslims by routinely putting some people and businesses under surveillance in an effort to prevent terrorism.

NPR's Joel Rose tells our Newscast unit that the appeals court sent the case back to district court. Here's more from Joel:

"The lawsuit, which was filed in 2012, accuses the NYPD of conducting secret surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey without suspicion of criminal activity. The spying was revealed in a series of articles by The Associated Press.

"The plaintiffs said NYPD surveillance subjected them to discrimination and threatened their careers, among other harms. But a federal judge dismissed the case in 2014, after lawyers for New York City argued the surveillance program was an anti-terrorism measure that did not discriminate against Muslims."

According to court documents, lead plaintiff Syed Farhaj Hassan and others associated with the Islamic faith say that following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NYPD "conducted the program in secret 'to monitor the lives of Muslims, their businesses, houses of worship, organizations, and schools in New York City and surrounding states, particularly New Jersey.' "

U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the plaintiffs' complaints tell a narrative in which "there is standing to complain and which present constitutional concerns that must be addressed and, if true, redressed." He adds:

"What occurs here in one guise is not new. We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind.

"We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight—that '[l]oyalty is a matter of the heart and mind[,] not race, creed, or color.' "

As the Two-Way reported, the NYPD announced last year that it was disbanding the special unit, known as the Demographics Unit, that was formed in 2003 and carried out surveillance of Muslim groups.

At the time, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said New York would have "a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
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