New York Police Department officers monitored Muslim students at Yale and at least 14 other colleges around the Northeast, the Associated Press first reported Saturday.
Detectives went undercover and “as a daily routine” in 2006 and 2007 surveyed the websites, forums and blogs of Muslim student associations at colleges including Yale, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. The names of students and professors involved in Muslim student associations and related events were recorded in reports prepared for New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, though none were charged with a crime. Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said Saturday that the University did not know about the police activity detailed in the NYPD report.
After hearing of the surveillance, members of the monitored organizations expressed outrage at what they perceived to be illegal police activity.
“Members of the Yale Muslim Students Association are shocked and saddened by this violation of our civil rights and basic dignity as students based purely on religious and/or national identity,” said Mostafa Al-Alusi ’13, the group’s current president, in a Sunday email to the News on behalf of its members. “Discrimination on the basis of faith is just as wrong and unacceptable as discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or any other identity.”
The group’s statement said the NYPD’s monitoring of Yale’s Muslim students “destroys the very conditions that make Yale a world-class university,” citing its infringement upon the “spirit of open inquiry, a diverse student body, [and] a principled commitment to inclusion.”
In a Nov. 22, 2006 NYPD secret document titled “Weekly MSA Report” obtained by the News from the Associated Press, an NYPD officer reported that he visited the websites and forums of Muslim student associations at Yale, Columbia, Penn and eight other colleges and “did not find significant information.”
Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said the University was unaware of the NYPD’s monitoring of Yale students.
“I have spoken with [Associated Vice President for Administration] Janet Lindner and she has consulted with [Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins], and we know of no such activity involving Yale students or Yale student organizations,” Lorimer said in an email Sunday night. “The University supports [the Muslim Student Association’s] goals and aims and is grateful for its leadership on our campus. I am one of the many who have been both inspired and educated by the MSA.”
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told the Associated Press that his department deemed it “prudent to get a better handle on” what was occurring at Muslim student associations around the Northeast by monitoring student websites and collecting publicly available information. At least 12 people arrested or convicted on terrorism-related charges around the world were associated with Muslim student associations, Browne said.
Browne said the NYPD’s monitoring only took place in 2006 and 2007, but the Associated Press documented cases of undercover monitoring as recently as 2009, when police set up a safe house in New Brunswick, N.J., to follow the Muslim student group at Rutgers University.
Kelly and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have said repeatedly that the NYPD only follows legitmate leads about suspected criminal activity. The reports obtained by the Associated Press do not document any criminal activity.
Police should only investigate people if they have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, said Yaman Salahi LAW ’12, a member of the Middle Eastern and North African Law Students’ Association who said he is interested in studying the surveillance practices of local police departments.
“If the NYPD thinks membership in a Muslim student group counts as reasonable suspicion, then we have a serious problem on our hands,” he said in a Saturday email to the News. “The NYPD should not be spying on students a hundred miles outside of its jurisdiction on the basis of nothing but their religion.”
Salahi added that Yale should reassure the community that it does not cooperate with law enforcement activities that infringe upon students’ rights in order to stand up for its students’ rights.
Sarah El-Ghazaly LAW ’12, a co-director of Yale’s Muslim Law Students’ Association, said she personally found the police conduct “highly offensive.” Students should be able to participate in religious organizations at their colleges without fear of being monitored by police and named in secret reports, she said.
“I’m not offended because I’m Muslim,” she said. “I would be equally offended if I heard that the police were monitoring Bible study groups or any other religious group.”
Other schools’ Muslim students associations monitored by the NYPD include New York University, Syracuse University and Albany University.