Monday, March 2, 2015

Zone Assessment Unit NYPD

Brandon Farrell

            The New York Police Department has disbanded its “Zone Assessment Unit,” which was used to unconstitutionally surveillance New York’s Muslim population.  It is certainly a step in the right direction that this mechanism of ethnic and religious profiling has been stopped.   However, in “NYPD Shutters Muslim Mapping Unit – But What About Other Tactics?” Noa Yachot reminds us not to celebrate the end of bias-based policing just yet, because the NYPD continues to utilize other tactics that operate on problematic stereotypes and unjustly target the Muslim population.
            Yachot enumerates multiple abusive tactics the NYPD employs, including the use of informants who monitor innocent Muslim people, the designation of entire mosques as “terrorism enterprises,” discriminatory use of surveillance cameras, and the avowal of radicalization theories that arise suspicion against people who engage in any Islamic practice.  Shutting down the “Zone Assessment Unit” was an important act of progress, but we must hold the NYPD accountable for ending all practices plagued with racial and religious profiling.  Our law enforcement system is supposed to be an equalizer; punishments and investigative procedures should be consistent, and the entire process should be isolated from race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity.  Through religious-based policing the NYPD fail to do this, and are delegitimizing our legal system by violating our nation’s commitment to freedom from religious persecution for all.
            In the wake of the Paris, Copenhagen, and Chapel Hill shootings, it is important that we consider the global context these NYPD tactics are being practiced in. In a world afflicted by religious based violence and inundated with Islam-phobia, it is essential to consider the very real dangers these types of practices are capable of perpetuating.  Not only are they downright unjust, but also they are integral to sowing a fear and mistrust of the Muslim community, which exacerbates their isolation and degradation- the very isolation and degradation that generated the terrorist attacks in the first place.   
            These NYPD practices were born out of a fear of Muslim people, due to acts of terror committed by certain people who identify as Muslim.  However, violence is not somehow inherent to Islam.  We must examine what it is about our societal, political, legal, and economic structures that are so fused with prejudice against the Muslim community that they generated enough frustration within jihadists to commit acts of unconscionable violence.  I am in no way excusing or trivializing the actions of terrorists.  I am, however, advocating that these surveillance actions are a violation of The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. It is clear that these Muslim citizens are not being treated fairly in the same method that others in similar situations are being treated.  If we are to respond to this violence in a comprehensive way that will effectively prevent future attacks, which is presumably the aim of the NYPD, we need to understand the root causes of the conflict.  If the root of the problem is prejudice against and alienation of the Muslim community, these NYPD practices are making New York more dangerous instead of more safe.  If progress is to come and we are to usher in peace, we must afford the Muslim community the recognition and inclusion they deserve instead of augmenting their sense of exclusion and oppression.
Appropriate responses that will effectively prevent future violence will not hold an entire religion responsible for the actions of extremists. When unconscionable acts of violence are committed in the name of Christianity, such as by abortion clinic bombers or by the KKK, perpetrators are psycho-pathologized and treated as exceptions to the rule.  When this happens in the name of Islam, however, every member of that religion is held responsible by the public and is stripped of their human rights by the government.  This has been happening in the US since 9/11, and is only getting worse after the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen.  Assuming that the 1.6 billion people that practice Islam support the actions taken by those at the fringes of their religion is to withhold the respect that should be afforded to people of every faith that practice it peacefully. Let us not forget people like Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim police officer killed in Paris.  Charlie Hebdo ridiculed Ahmed’s faith and culture, and Ahmed died defending Charlie’s right to do so.  We must stop subjugating the truthful, nuanced versions of the world simply because it is more convenient to blame an entire part of the populace for the actions taken by a few. 



Morgan M said...

I agree with the author and think that this article brings up even aspects of what we have been discussing in class with the freedom to practice religion. Just because someone identifies with a religion that has associated with terrorism does not mean that all people who practice the religion are violent people. There are many cases in which we must realize that our interests in safety have gone to far. To me, these intrusive practices of putting up video cameras in mosques has cause "excessive entanglement" of the government into religion but in a different way in which we have been talking about. In this case the entanglement serves to directly hamper religion by monitoring their speeches and practices. In this county we have worked to preserve freedom, regardless of whether the state agrees with it or not. Although it may be hard for some people to let go of their own safety, it is something that we must accept as a country that promotes free practice of religion.
In the following article,, they report on how many Muslim people still feel extremely oppressed even more than a decade after 9/11. As a country, I think that these practices of the NYPD need to be restricted as they only hamper religion and a stigma towards muslim people.

Alex L. said...

Let me begin by reiterating the point that only a very tiny portion of the Muslim population are those who commit these horrible acts. Nonetheless, I respectfully disagree with Brandon’s view regarding the NYPD’s Zone Assessment Unit. While you view this unit as perpetuating violence I view it as a fleeting attempt to combat the sort of extremism that has engulfed the Middle East and now Europe. The original goals of the unit according to the New York Times were to identify mundane locations where would be terrorists could blend into society. In addition, detectives, wearing plain clothes looked to identify “hot spots” of radicalization that might give police an early warning about terrorist plots. This program was made in the wake of September 11, 2001 where over 2,900 innocent people of various faiths including Islam were killed. It is worth noting that over 71 NYPD officers also died in the attacks.
At it core, the goal of the program is to keep the United States, in particular New York City safe. It is certainly unfortunate that innocent people were inconvenienced by this program, yet I do not see how its “hampers” religion as Moran above suggests.
How long are we supposed to completely ignore that these “hot spots” for terrorism exist or have the potential to exist in the United States? While I realize this particular program did not yield any big leads , I would go as far to say that perhaps the attacks in Copenhagen and Paris would have not happened or perhaps not as many lives would have been lost if similar programs existed there. It is very easy to criticize the police, but they have the toughest job, of trying to keep New York City, a city that is home to Christians, Muslims, Jews, and almost every other faith safe.

Sam Cohen said...

This is a frightening and uncomfortable situation. While I was always certain that police officers, as humans, have unconscious biases, which are biases that we usually deny having but when we are acting on instinct, tend to have, this shows that our police department acts with fully conscious bias. This is an issue that must be addressed for both its constitutional and safety implications. A muslim middle schooler can be watched for simply walking home from school, for example. Our state is treating Muslims, people who follow the religion of Islam, differently than those who follow other religions. Not only does this violate the 14th Amendment, but it violates the First Amendment as well.

Nate Hunter said...

I agree with you Brandon that this is most definitely religious profiling by the NYPD. Of course the acts that were committed by certain people who are Muslim were terrible, however that is not indicative of Muslims everywhere, and for the NYPD to heavily monitor them by putting up cameras in their places of worship is an excessive entanglement on the governments part, and should be stopped immediately. They are clearly being treated differently then all other religions in the US, and this can be looked at as discrimination and religious persecution from the standpoint of muslims. I think such excessive monitoring needs to be stopped, and that these people, almost all of which are innocent, law abiding citizens, need to be able to live their lives without the feeling of being singled out and watched by the federal government at all times.