A Muslim organization is calling on Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg to disavow the New York Police Department’s surveillance program that targeted Muslims in New York City and beyond. The call comes after a 2015 audio clip of Bloomberg defending stop and frisk policing that targeted young Black and Latino men.
Bloomberg made the stop-and-frisk comments at the Aspen Institute in 2015, according to The New York Times. At the time, The Aspen Times reported that Bloomberg claimed young, men of color overwhelmingly committed crimes and that stop and frisk in their neighborhoods made sense. The audio was released on February 10 by progressive podcaster Benjamin Dixon.
“Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O.,” Bloomberg said in the recording. “You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city.”
Bloomberg, who only recently jumped into the Democratic presidential field, has since apologized for his support of the harmful policing tactic. However, the former New York City mayor has never disavowed or apologized for the NYPD’s anti-Muslim surveillance program. The program has since been dismantled through the courts.
“While Mayor Bloomberg was discriminating against Black and Latino communities with ‘Stop and Frisk,’ he was also spying on thousands of innocent Muslims,” Scott Simpson, public advocacy director for Muslim Advocates, said in statement to The North Star. “Innocent people were filmed had pictures taken of their license plates, had their communities mapped and had undercover officers infiltrate their mosques, schools, businesses and restaurants under Bloomberg’s leadership.”
Simpson continued: “To this day, he has not disavowed this program. These recently unearthed comments on ‘Stop and Frisk’ fit a long-standing pattern of Bloomberg enacting and defending discriminatory policing programs that target people because of their race or religion. His continued silence is completely unacceptable. It is long past time for Bloomberg to finally apologize for his spying program.”
In an interview with The North Star, Simpson said that the program Bloomberg has continuously defended has acted as a blueprint for a lot of what President Donald Trump has done against Muslim Americans.
Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, joined forces with the Center for Constitutional Rights to sue the NYPD on behalf of Muslims living in New Jersey over the surveillance program. A settlement was reached in Hassan v. City of New York in 2018 that forced the NYPD to end the unlawful spying activity.
“Under Bloomberg’s watch, the program persisted despite official acknowledgement that in the six years of operation, the surveillance of New York City and New Jersey’s Muslim communities by the Demographics Unit did not yield a single lead,” Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney Diana Shamas said in a statement to The North Star.
“It wasn’t until the City was publicly shamed through leaked internal documents, unleashing a wave of community organizing, public outrage, and multiple lawsuits, that the Police Department changed its tune,” Shamas said. “As an aside, that only happened after Michael Bloomberg, and his [Police] Commissioner Ray Kelly, had left office.”
Simpson told The North Star that his organization has always called on Bloomberg to disavow and apologize for the surveillance program. He noted that Bloomberg’s recent bid for the presidency has made it even more crucial to call attention to the issue.
The Bloomberg campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Muslim Surveillance Program Explained
The NYPD’s Intelligence Division conducted “religious profiling and suspicion-less surveillance” of Muslims in New York City and beyond since at least 2002. The anti-Muslim surveillance program targeted Muslim religious and community leaders, student associations, mosques, organizations, businesses and individuals, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Muslim Advocate’s Simpson explained to The North Star that the program extended far beyond New York City, with the NYPD spying on every mosque within 100 miles of New York. This affected Muslims as far as Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey.
The surveillance program involved mapping neighborhoods predominantly occupied by 28 “ancestries of interest,” or people with national origins associated with Muslim populations. NYPD officers surveilled mosques, took photos and videos of Muslims leaving places of worship and even recorded license plate numbers of worshippers.
Simpson said that the NYPD recruited “mosque crawlers,”who acted as informants within mosques. Police not only tracked individuals but also documented Muslim-owned businesses and patrons of Muslim-owned establishments. The NYPD did this “with no basis,” Simpson said.
Young Muslims who participated in Muslim student groups were also targeted.
“This is abhorrent,” Simpson said. “There is nothing defensible about the program, about how it operated. It impacted people across race. There is a specific interest in people of color and we very much see that this program in that broader light of biased policing from the Bloomberg administration.”
What Bloomberg Has Said to Defend The Surveillance Program
“I believe we should do what we have to do to keep us safe. And we have to be consistent with the Constitution and with people’s rights. We live in a dangerous world, and we have to be very proactive in making sure that we prevent terrorism,” Bloomberg said in 2011, according to NBC New York.
“We have to keep this country safe,” Bloomberg said in 2012 in response to an AP report that revealed the NYPD was closely monitoring Muslim student associations. “If people put things on websites and make them available to everybody, of course the NYPD is going to look at anything that’s publicly available in the public domain,” he continued, according to CNN.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.