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.