Levin, Bloomberg spar over NYPD surveillance

Photo by YDN.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his city’s police department Tuesday, after reports surfaced Saturday that it had monitored Muslim students at Yale and at least 14 other colleges around the Northeast.

At a press conference at the Brooklyn Public Library Tuesday morning, Bloomberg said the New York Police Department’s surveillance helped “keep the country safe,” the Associated Press reported. His remarks came after University President Richard Levin said in a Monday evening statement to the Yale community that police surveillance on the basis of religion, nationality or “peacefully expressed political opinions” is “antithetical” to the values of Yale.

“If going on websites and looking for information is not what Yale stands for, I don’t know,” Bloomberg said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s the freedom of information … Of course we’re gonna look at anything that’s publicly available and in the public domain. We have an obligation to do so. And it is to protect the very things that let Yale survive.”

The NYPD routinely monitored the websites, blogs and forums of Muslim student associations at colleges including Yale, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, according to internal reports obtained by the Associated Press. 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. In a Nov. 22, 2006 NYPD document entitled “Weekly MSA Report,” an NYPD officer reported he “did not find significant information” on the Yale Muslim Students Association’s website.

“Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks reveal a startling acceptance of religious profiling conducted by the NYPD,” said Faisal Hamid ’14, the Muslim Students Association’s current vice-president, in a Tuesday evening statement to the News on behalf of the organization. “Profiling on the basis of faith is just as wrong and unacceptable as profiling on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or any other identity and we hope that Mayor Bloomberg comes to realize this.”

The statement thanked Levin and the Yale administration for standing by the Muslim Students Association.

Levin said the Yale Police Department did not participate in the NYPD’s surveillance and was “entirely unaware” of NYPD activities until the Associated Press first reported the monitoring Saturday.

“The Yale Muslim Students Association has been an important source of support for Yale students during a period when Muslims and Islam itself have too often been the target of thoughtless stereotyping, misplaced fear and bigotry,” Levin said in his Monday evening statement. “Now, in the wake of these disturbing news reports, I want to assure the members of the Yale Muslim Students Association that they can count on the full support of Yale University.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut plans to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the YPD to obtain any documents it may have indicating contact with the NYPD about its monitoring activity, Sandy Staub, the group’s legal director, told the New Haven Independent.

Bloomberg criticized Levin’s remarks, arguing that Yale’s freedom to conduct academic research, teach and give people a “place to say what they want to say” is defended by law enforcement agencies such as the NYPD.

“I found Mayor Bloomberg’s response to President Levin to be indicative of the very mindset that got the NYPD into this mess,” said Mostafa Al-Alusi ’13, president of Yale’s Muslim Students Association. “He chose to defend the religious and racial profiling done by the NYPD instead of owning up to the fact that they have overstepped their bounds.”

In an interview with the News Tuesday evening, Levin defended his words.

“I’m a great admirer of mayor Bloomberg, for his public leadership, for his philanthropy and for his extraordinary acumen as a business leader. On the matter in question, I stand by my statement from last night,” Levin said.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne defended his department’s actions to the Associated Press, saying it was “prudent to get a better handle on” what was occurring at Muslim student associations around the Northeast. He noted that the department monitored collected publicly available information from open websites, the Associated Press reported.

The Associated Press also reported that the NYPD sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip with students from the City College of New York, during which the agent recorded students’ names and noted in police files how many times they prayed.

When reporters at the Brooklyn Public Library asked Bloomberg about this rafting trip, he denied that such a move went too far. The purpose of law enforcement is to “prevent things,” he said, and doing so requires intelligence gathering.

NYPD monitoring of Muslim student associations took place 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, the Associated Press reported.



  • mr09:

    Agreed with Bloomberg: ‘the purpose of law enforcement is to prevent things and this requires intelligence gathering.’

    NYPD did nothing illegal while gathering intelligence from public domains. As an example, when Yale sends students on immersion programs to understand different cultures, is this act considered profiling? Out of curiosity, has a Yale student or professor ever immersed oneself in another culture to learn specifically about religion? Can this be considered profiling?

    On an individual basis, we have the right to learn about other cultures and religions if we simply want to learn more information/intelligence, or further, if we feel threatened. For example, Muslims within the Yale community can research Christian or Jewish groups/public domains freely. Muslims can also join and actively participate in these groups. By researching these public domains or joining these groups, we are not violating religious freedom or racially profiling in a negative context, we are learning. How can Yale impede the NYPD from learning about other cultures or religions?

    If Yale organizations or individuals want to screen and prevent individuals or organizations from participating in or learning about their activities, then they have the right to screen and exclude participants (in the front) or information (in the rear). If information is free to everyone, then it is what it is.

  • Catherine08:

    What is wrong with any individual or organization reading a blog? In the 21st century, it is a commonplace: if you want to keep your activities, opinions, and photos private, do not post them on the internet.

    • The Anti-Yale:

      The Commissioner of NYPD has heard that all Catherines harbor seditious feelings toward the U.S. inculcated by their worship of the deity, Og. He has ordered the NYPD to read the blogs of all Ogists within 100 miles of New York with special attention to those named Catherine, being sure to list the names of all Catherines for publication in NYPD files.

  • VladimirChituc:

    I think we should make it clear that no one is claiming the NYPD broke any laws, because reading a website *is* entirely legal. But the outrage isn’t over the legality of their conduct. Rather, the issue is the fact that they’re profiling.

    Where you travel on public roads is by definition public. The police has a right to follow your car wherever you travel, and they violate no laws by doing it. But there would (and I think should) be outrage if it came to light that the NYPD was wasting time and money following around Muslim students in their cars, simply because the students are Muslim.

    The same applies here.

    It’s baseless profiling (not even blogs of terrorist groups, but average Muslim student groups? And this is meant to protect our National security?). It does little more than cause an already demonized minority to feel even more marginalized.

    That’s where the outrage is coming from, and President Levin was right to support our MSA.

    • JE14:

      They have somewhat toned down their (at least the public version of) their speech. But until recently some MSA’s openly supported the destruction of Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah most still support the Muslim Brotherhood, which is part of their founders. Saying that these are the average Muslims does the real average Muslims no favors.
      Most of the leaders of our MSA also openly support or are involved in the “Israeli Apartheid Week”, which is a display of anti-jewish propaganda even Goebbles would envy.

    • Catherine08:

      Unfortunately, it is necessary that the police focus their intelligence gathering. I hope that they are also scrutinizing white supremacist groups, or anarchist groups, if any of them are in the area.

    • dolphinfetus:

      12 individuals arrested for terrorist activities over the past few years were members of MSA’s. 4 heads of MSA’s in London have faced terror charges in the past 3 years, including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “Underwear Bomber,” who was President of UCL’s Muslim students organization. Anwar al-Awlaki, the senior “talent” recruiter for al Qaeda was president of his MSA at Colorado State. How can you call this “baseless profiling”?

      These organizations have been used again and again to recruit terrorists. Their members are not all terrorists, but their members are much more likely to be terrorists than the average member of the US population — that’s a sad but nevertheless true statistical fact. And, with limited resources, it is irrational for an intelligence gathering organization like this particular branch of the NYPD to gather intelligence on anybody but the members of society who are most likely to be terrorists.

  • TheMadcap:

    Then why isn’t the NYPD also surviving Libertarian societies in universities when when numerous militia movement members have been arrested for conspiring to commits acts of terrorism and they often have substantial links to Libertarian organizations? Oh wait, forgot, not Muslim. Normally agnostic or radical Christian, so it’s ok.
    Yes but the NYPD is monitoring a very specific demographic, and a demographic more importantly far outside of their jurisdiction. The federal government at least has the practical authority to monitor groups in various states. The issue here is another case of the NYPD being out of control as they are, as mayor Bloomberg described them, “my personal army”. Maybe it’s time to hit closer to home to most people, forget Muslims, “NYPD: we’re literally sneaking into your churches”

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