Muslims to NYPD: 'Respect us, we will respect you'
NEW YORK (AP) — Hundreds of Muslims prayed in lower Manhattan and planned a march on New York Police headquarters Friday to protest a decade of NYPD spying inside Muslim neighborhoods.
The traditional Friday call to prayer echoed off the cold stone of government buildings as people, bundled in winter clothes, knelt in prayer on a blue tarp.
"We are unapologetically Muslim and uncompromisingly American," imam Talib Abdur-Rashid told the crowd of about 500 gathered in Foley Square, not far from City Hall and local courthouses.
To Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, he added, "We want for you to respect us and we will respect you."
An Associated Press investigation revealed widespread NYPD spying programs that documented every aspect of Muslim life in New York. Police infiltrated mosques and student groups. Plainclothes officers catalogued Middle Eastern restaurants. Analysts built databases on Arab cab drivers and monitored Muslims who changed their names.
"Had this been happening to any other religious group, all of America would be outraged," said Daoud Ibraheem, 73, a retired graphic artist from Brooklyn.
Many of these programs were built with the help of the CIA as part of an unusually close collaboration that is now the subject of an internal CIA investigation.
"There's a wrong that we have all been made aware of," said Abdur-Rashid, of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood.
He said it was no secret that police have been watching mosques. But the news that the NYPD was monitoring everything from Islamic schools to restaurants was unacceptable.
"We're peaceful people," said Dalia Nazzal, 18, a freshman at the City University of New York, the target of police infiltration. "We don't deserve to be under surveillance."
Mohamed Mahmoud, 40, the owner of a Brooklyn printing shop, said he knew several people who had been approached by NYPD officers trying to recruit them as informants. Documents obtained by the AP also show that police monitored even those Muslims who decried terrorism and partnered with the government to prevent violence.
"They think that all Muslims are criminals, and it's not right," Mahmoud said.
At an unrelated news conference, Kelly told reporters that he "categorically denied" the idea that the NYPD was spying. He said his officers only follow leads and do not simply trawl neighborhoods.
"We do what we believe necessary to protect this city, pursuant to the law," Kelly said. "We have a battery of very experienced, well-trained lawyers that advise us on all of our tactics and operations."
A dozen or so uniformed police officers monitored the protest, watching in small clusters from around the perimeter. There were no clashes between protesters and police.
The protest was joined by about 50 members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, who marched to Foley Square chanting "Surveillance is violence, we won't remain silent!"
Following the prayer, protesters were scheduled to march to police headquarters, calling for an end to the surveillance.
Protesters carried signs that said "NYPD Watches Us. Who Watches NYPD?" and "NYPD/CIA: Hands Off Our People."