Image: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Henny Ray Abrams  /  AP
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, shown at a Thursday news conference, is scheduled to hold his annual year-end interfaith breakfast on Friday, but a group of Muslims says it will boycott the event.
msnbc.com
updated 12/29/2011 5:29:14 PM ET 2011-12-29T22:29:14

Activists upset at police efforts to spy on Muslims plan to skip Mayor Michael Bloomberg's annual year-end interfaith breakfast Friday, saying Bloomberg shouldn't be defending the tactics.

The 15 imams and activists, supported by religious leaders from a variety of faiths, said in a letter to Bloomberg that they're disturbed at his response to a series of stories by The Associated Press detailing New York Police Department intelligence-gathering programs that monitored Muslim groups, businesses and houses of worship. Bloomberg has defended the department, saying last week it doesn't take religion into account in its policing.

About a dozen people turned down invitations to Friday's breakfast but "a couple dozen" more said they plan to attend, Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said.

The breakfast has long served as a way to showcase the city's diversity and tolerance during overlapping winter holidays.

"I couldn't be there while knowing that the mayor supports, if not established, this warrantless spying apparatus," said Hesham El-Meligy, founder of the Building Bridges Coalition of Staten Island and one of the letter's signers. "I could not just go there as if everything was OK, knowing that it's not."

The letter to Bloomberg contained the names of several dozen Muslim leaders and organizations and said they believe the police department's tactics "threaten the rights of all Americans, and deepen mistrust between our communities and law enforcement." About three dozen Jewish and Christian leaders also signed the letter, though it was unclear how many of them had been invited to the breakfast.

"Mayor Bloomberg, the extent of these civil rights violations is astonishing, yet instead of calling for accountability and the rule of law, you have thus far defended the NYPD's misconduct," the letter said.

Infiltration alleged
Activists accused Bloomberg of squandering goodwill built up last year when he fiercely defended a proposed Islamic prayer and cultural center not far from where the World Trade Center stood. The mosque is still in the planning stages.

But they said they were disappointed by what he said after the AP reported on the police department's efforts to infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods and mosques with aggressive programs designed by a CIA officer who worked with the department after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The stories disclosed that a team of 16 police officers speaking at least five languages was assigned to use census information and government databases to map ethnic neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Documents reviewed by the AP revealed that undercover police officers known as rakers visited local businesses such as Islamic bookstores and cafes, chatting up store owners to determine their ethnicities and gauge their views. They also played cricket and eavesdropped in ethnic cafes and clubs.

The AP stories also revealed that one of the CIA's most experienced clandestine operatives began working inside the police department in July as the special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence.

The CIA is prohibited from spying domestically. Its unusual partnership with the NYPD has troubled top lawmakers and prompted an internal investigation.

In October, Bloomberg defended the arrangement, saying it was necessary in a dangerous world.

"There are people trying to kill us," he said. "And if the CIA can help us I'm all for getting any information they have and then letting the police department use it as — if it's appropriate to protect you and to protect me."

The letter noted that Muslims comprise at least 10 percent of the city's population. It said the Muslims leaders were seeking a meeting with the mayor to discuss the issues raised by the reports.

"We believe it is unequivocally wrong and fundamentally misguided to invest law enforcement resources in religious or racial profiling, rather than investigating suspicious activity," it said. "We seek your clear, unambiguous, public support for the rights and privacy of all New Yorkers, including Muslims; and a condemnation of all policies that profile and target communities and community groups solely based on their religion or the color of their skin."

It also said: "We are deeply disturbed that to date we have only heard your words of strong support for these troubling policies and violations of our rights. We are equally disturbed by (police Commissioner Raymond) Kelly's denials of what we know to be true as verified by the leaked documents."

The writers requested a meeting with the mayor "at the earliest possible date" to discuss the issues.

Police call allegations false
The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said in an e-mail to The New York Times that "the N.Y.P.D. lawfully follows leads in terrorist-related investigations and does not engage in the kind of wholesale spying on communities that was falsely alleged."

Browne also told the Times that the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general recently completed report about its role in the NYPD activities concluded that no laws were broken and that there was no evidence the C.I.A. had been engaged in domestic spying.

The New York Daily News and New York Post defended the police in editorials this week, with the Daily News calling the AP's reporting "overheated, overhyped."

Kelly, meanwhile, met Wednesday evening at a Bronx mosque with two imams who weren't listed on the letter and with young fans of a police department youth soccer league, whose winners were presented with a trophy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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