New York Muslims will be happy to know they can carry on their daily routines without being watched. The New York Police Department’s new commissioner, William J. Bratton, recently shuttered the controversial surveillance program that allows plainclothes detectives to hang in Muslim neighborhoods to eavesdrop on conversations and build detailed files on where residents ate, prayed, and shopped.
The department’s special squad – known as the Demographics Unit in the Muslim community – drew criticism from civil rights groups and a senior official with the FBI, essentially sending the message that every move Muslims made was viewed with suspicion.
“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” says Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York. “Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the cafe where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”
The Demographics Unit has been largely inactive since January when Bratton came on board.
“Understanding certain local demographics can be a useful factor when assessing the threat information that comes into New York City virtually on a daily basis,” says department chief spokesman Stephen Davis. “In the future we will gather than information, if necessary, through direct contact between the police precincts and the representatives of the communities they serve.”