Local and National Religious Leaders ask Mayor Bloomberg to Investigate NYPD Surveillance and Training Practices
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
New York, NY 10007
March 13, 2012
Dear Mayor Bloomberg:
As national and local religious leaders, we are dedicated to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with American Muslims. We write, urgently, to encourage an investigation into the activities of the New York Police Department (NYPD) regarding the surveillance of area Muslim communities and the materials, presentations and films used in counterterrorism and countering violent extremism trainings.
As you know, in September 2011 the Associated Press began a series of investigative reports, which publicized NYPD training materials targeting and mapping area communities based on ancestry and religion, particularly Islam. The result appears to have been covert surveillance of Muslim religious centers and workplaces, often with no evidence of wrongdoing, at times with an emphasis on Shi’a Muslims. This surveillance has gone beyond the borders of New York City, into Newark, NJ and New Haven, CT.
Recent investigative reports also reveal NYPD surveillance of Muslim Student Associations, including at universities like Yale that are not in New York, between 2006 and 2007. Students’ names and activities were included in NYPD reports without any indication of wrongdoing. Though you have defended the NYPD in this instance, we hope you will conduct an investigation of this allegation.
As religious leaders, we are concerned that constitutionally-protected activities, like religious practice and assembly, have been cited as possible reasons to suspect criminal activity. Additionally, we bear a sacred responsibility to honor America’s varied faith traditions and to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all.
Furthermore, we are deeply concerned that The Third Jihad, a film with drastic misinformation about Muslims across the world, was shown to officers between training sessions, and by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s participation in a 90-minute interview with the producers of the film. We are appalled that, as reported in the New York Times, almost 1,500 NYPD officers were exposed to such patently false and highly inappropriate propaganda with any kind of official sanction. For senior NYPD officials, including Commissioner Kelly, to contribute to the making of a film that relies on such misinformation is not only inappropriate but also counterproductive. It supports bigoted propaganda with a façade of accuracy that contradicts the message of major counterterrorism officials and religious freedom experts.
This new information is particularly disheartening considering the NYPD’s notable work in previous years to build strong relationships and trust with the New York Muslim community. For example, in September 2010 when controversy raged over building a Muslim community center near Ground Zero, Commissioner Kelly increased security for Muslim leaders and community centers to protect them from increased threats. His work with the New York Muslim community has brought 1,500 Muslim officers into the NYPD, with 350 officers in a special Muslim Officers society, as well as a Muslim chaplain. These important actions on Commissioner Kelly’s part, including an annual luncheon with Muslim leaders prior to Ramadan, have been essential in building trust between New York Muslims and the NYPD.
Mayor Bloomberg, we write to you not merely because of your authoritative role with regard to the NYPD, but because we know of your strong commitment to religious freedom and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers, and indeed all Americans. We remember with great appreciation your August 2010 speech at Governors Island in which you noted, “we would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else…Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith.”
We urge you to conduct an urgent and thorough investigation into the practices of the NYPD to ensure that the agency’s trainings and practices support the constitutionally-protected right to worship without scrutiny for every religious community. This investigation should take into account all materials and presentations shown throughout training processes, including those shown informally between training periods. We are confident that such an investigation would result in the purging of harmful and offensive l materials, such as The Third Jihad, and the correction of misinformation to officers who have been trained with these materials.
Recently, we have seen good-faith efforts by other agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to purge its own trainings of such harmful materials. We recommend the NYPD develop standards for trainings along the lines of guiding principles standards established by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Furthermore, we urge the NYPD to increase its transparency with those communities of targeted religious and ancestral backgrounds, as well as with interreligious community leaders to invite their involvement and continued advice on strategies to address these training and surveillance issues. Such a partnership would help to rebuild the trust between the NYPD and the targeted New York communities. Our interfaith community would gladly serve as a resource in this work to ensure these harmful practices do not happen again.
We are committed to building a future in which religious differences no longer lead to suspicion, hostility or division between communities. Rather, we believe that such diversity can serve to enrich our public discourse about the great moral challenges that face our nation and our planet. On the basis of our shared reflection, we insist that no religion should be judged on the words or actions of those who seek to pervert it through acts of violence. Thank you for your attention to this issue. We look forward to a response from your office.
Rabbi Andy Bachman
Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn, New York
Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin
Israel Center for Conservative Judaism, Flushing NY
Rev. Chloe Breyer
Executive Director, The Interfaith Center of New York
Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky
Congregation Ansche Chesed, New York, NY
Rabbi Ellen Lippman
Kolot Chayeinu, Brooklyn
Rev. Mark Lukens
Chair, The Interfaith Alliance of Long Island, NY
Pastor, Bethany Congregational United Church of Christ
Rabbi Marc Margolius
West End Synagogue, New York
Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
Bishop Jeremiah Park
United Methodist Bishop, New York Annual Conference
Rev. Dr. Rita M. Root
Interim Conference Minister, New York Conference, United Church of Christ
Ms. Marilyn Wienk
President, Interfaith Alliance of Rochester, NY
Mr. Jordan Blevins
Director, Peace Witness Ministries, Church of the Brethren**
Director, Multicultural Growth &Witness, Unitarian Universalist Association**
Rev. Jennifer Butler
Executive Director, Faith in Public Life*
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College**
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President, Interfaith Alliance**
Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Executive Director, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America**
Rev. Linda Jaramillo
Executive Minister, Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ**
Rev. Richard Killmer
Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture*
Director, Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America**
Imam Mohamed Magid
President, Islamic Society of North America*
Rev. Steve Martin
Executive Director, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good**
Mark J. Pelavin
Associate Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism*
Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Ph.D.
Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies
Director, Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue
Jewish Theological Seminary**
Robert Wilson-Black, PhD
Vice President, Sojourners**
General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society – United Methodist Church**
Dr. James Zogby
Founder and President, Arab American Institute**
*Indicates member of Shoulder-to-Shoulder Executive Committee
**Indicates member of Shoulder-to-Shoulder Steering Committee
For more information or to contact signatories on this letter, please contact:
Christina Warner, Campaign Director
Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values