Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

NYPD Apparently Targeting Buffalo-Area Citizens and Refugee Population Based On Ethnicity and Religion, Not Criminal Activity

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 18, 2012

It seems that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has focused on Buffalo-area Muslims and Somalis (including people and citizens resettled as refugees), not based upon on known criminal activity, but instead based upon these people’s ethnicity and religion. Although the NYPD, unlike the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department need not predicate domestic surveillance on information that their target is engaged or about to engage in criminal activity, the NYPD did not fully consult with local police and other federal security agencies about its activities in Buffalo. There is no sign that the Strategic Intelligence Unit announced its activities to the Buffalo area’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a cooperative effort that includes federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. There is also the concern that actions by the NYPD could be jeopardizing the good relationship that local law enforcement authorities have with the local Somali and Muslim populations, including US citizens. An article at the Buffalo News explains:

The New York City Police Department’s focus on Buffalo-area Muslims continues to this day. Further, an internal document indicates the surveillance began even before NYPD detectives met with the Erie County undersheriff in December 2008 to describe their “Somalia Project.”…

…At the same time, there is no sign that the Strategic Intelligence Unit announced its activities to the Buffalo area’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a cooperative effort that includes federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The Associated Press in recent months revealed the NYPD’s covert efforts to examine Muslim businesses, infiltrate mosques and keep an eye on Muslim students on college campuses, not just in New York City but in locations around the Northeast. The Muslim Student Association website at the University of Buffalo was among those monitored, a separate NYPD document shows.

The NYPD calls its surveillance and intelligence-gathering legal and necessary and does not apologize for the program. The department after 9/11 determined it “could not rely solely on the federal government” for its defense. Says Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly: “Our primary mission, our primary goal, is to keep this city safe.”

Yet ethnicity and religion, not criminal activity, seem to have sparked the NYPD’s interest around the Northeast, including Buffalo…

…Unlike the NYPD, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department must predicate domestic surveillance on information that their target is engaged or about to engage in criminal activity.

“I can tell you that we don’t predicate any investigation based on somebody’s race, or color, or national origin, or on the exercise of their First Amendment rights,” said William J. Hochul, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York. “In terms of the bigger picture, why was the NYPD doing what it was? I don’t have all the details.”…

…If the NYPD did not provide a heads-up on its activities to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, it should have, said a former agent-in-charge here for the FBI.

“If I had still been up there that would have bothered me a lot,” said Peter J. Ahearn, who headed the FBI office in Buffalo from 2001 to 2006 and now works as a consultant helping businesses deal with government. “With the reputation the NYPD does have, and I know this factually, they will do different things in cities around the country and not even let law enforcement know they are there.

“There are reasons to be concerned,” he said. “If you are not talking to law enforcement, and the local police department rolls up on you, it creates an officer-safety issue. Also it can prove detrimental to the efforts that the local law enforcement community is making in the Muslim community. We had some very good community outreach up there.”

Dr. Khalid Qazi, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York, agrees.

“This is all related to the security of the homeland, I don’t have any doubt about that,” he said of the NYPD’s foray into Buffalo. “The only question in my mind is, when we are working very cooperatively, and in a very proactive fashion for the security of the homeland, whether these types of actions are counterproductive.

“And I guess the issue always will be, where do we stop so we don’t compromise the civil rights and civil liberties of innocent Americans?”…

…Yahye Y. Omar, chairman of the Imams Council of Western New York, also is active on the West Side, especially as executive director of HEAL — Help Everyone Achieve Livelihood — a nonprofit that helps immigrants and refugees.

He is engaged in a long-standing effort to make the Islamic way of life less mysterious to outsiders, and to encourage Somali youth to consider how they can enrich their community.

In 2010, he helped establish a law enforcement education program for Somali high school and college students. It brought in representatives from the FBI, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the State Police to speak about the role of law enforcement, and careers. On a wall of his office, Omar has proudly placed a photo of a local Somali now with the Baltimore Police Department…

…Omar expressed [his] sentiments about the NYPD surveillance…why does the New York police force need contacts in the Somali and Muslim community here after its members have cooperated so much with local authorities?… Read more here

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