Since 9/11, there have been momentous changes in how the United States operates. Government officials and authorities have had to deal with a more complex array of problems and some security changes. From the large-scale to the everyday, these adjustments have been hard to swallow.
The noise made by civil liberties organizations over the Patriot Act, which loosened restrictions on law enforcement’s ability to gather intelligence, brought attention to possible constitutional violations in the name of safety. The Department of Homeland Security has defended the Patriot Act as they thought necessary — for the sake of security, some sacrifices must be made. Another controversial policy of this kind focuses specifically on New York City and the Tri-State area.
In mid-2011, after an ongoing investigation, the Associated Press released documents obtained from the New York Police Department detailing a secret intelligence unit intended to stop future terrorist attacks before they strike. This Demographics Unit, which consists of members of the NYPD and ex-CIA operatives, was and still is conducting arbitrary, covert surveillance on Muslims — sitting in on Islamic society meetings, infiltrating thousands of mosques and planting informants in Muslim Student Associations in universities across the region. Lists of thousands of Islamic organizations, including names, dates, pictures, maps, personal backgrounds are in the released documents, and going through the documents is slightly disturbing at best.
The most alarming of the NYPD’s actions is the blatant racial profiling. Listed in dozens of released confidential NYPD documents are specific directions to look into anyone of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. In one report, when scoping out specific businesses or locations, officers were told first and foremost to “determine the ethnicity of the owner.”
Most confusing, though, is the operation’s continuation despite the lack of results. According to Assistant Chief Thomas Galati, there has not been a lead in over six years of practice. Galati made statements of this kind during a June 2012 deposition. Why, then, has the policy survived?
The NYPD had consistently denied these reports until recently, when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the procedures, claiming it was in the interest of all Americans.
While national security is of paramount importance, it should not come at the cost of citizens’ constitutional rights. Officials say there was no breach of a person’s right to free speech, assembly, privacy or religion, but the investigation has shown that many people who are subject to surveillance live in fear; they fear living and speaking freely, which are fears that constitutional amendments were designed to erase. In attempting to protect the nation from terrorism, government officials have gone against the very foundation of our nation and violated the same principles set in place to protect from unprovoked assault.
Immigrants, first-, second- and third-generation Americans, people who have committed themselves to becoming part of this country, are being persecuted because of where they come from and what they believe in. Americans should not tolerate such an attack on our principles.
Nina Golshan is a contributing columnist. Email her at [email protected]