At a time when executive orders seek to curtail the rights of Muslims in the United States and Islamophobia is on an upswing, a new settlement provides expanded legal protection for Muslims living in New York City.
Nearly six years after The Associated Press revealed that the New York Police Department (NYPD) was secretly and aggressively surveilling Muslim mosques, businesses and student groups, a settlement to prevent future discriminatory surveillance just received final judicial approval. The settlement is the result of two federal lawsuits, Raza v. City of New York and Handschu v. Special Services Division, and it establishes rules that will govern how investigations are conducted and provides for an independent civilian representative who will work with the NYPD to prevent religious discrimination. The last of the two required judges approved the terms of the settlement on Monday (March 20).
“We and our clients are very pleased that the courts have approved this groundbreaking settlement,” attorneys for the Raza case plaintiffs said in statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union. “Now, New York Muslims and all New Yorkers will have strong protections from unconstitutional religious profiling and surveillance. This agreement sends a critical message to the federal government and police forces around the country that law enforcement can and must do its job without resorting to discrimination.”
The settlement includes the following provisions, as outlined in the statement:
- Prohibiting investigations in which race, religion, ethnicity or national origin is a substantial or motivating factor.
- Requiring articulable and factual information regarding possible unlawful activity before the NYPD can launch a preliminary investigation into political or religious activity.
- Requiring the NYPD to account for the potential effect of investigative techniques on constitutionally protected activities such as religious worship and political meetings.
- Limiting the NYPD’s use of undercover and confidential informants to situations in which the information sought cannot reasonably be obtained in a timely and effective way by less intrusive means.
- Putting an end to open-ended investigations by imposing presumptive time limits and requiring reviews of ongoing investigations every six months.
- Installing a civilian representative within the NYPD with the power and obligation to ensure all safeguards are followed and to serve as a check on investigations directed at political and religious activities. The civilian representative must record and report any violations to the police commissioner, who must investigate violations and report back to the civilian representative. If violations are systematic, the civilian representative must report them directly to the judge in the Handschu case.
- Removing from the NYPD website the discredited and unscientific Radicalization in the West report, which justified discriminatory surveillance, and affirming that the report is not and will not be relied upon to open or prolong NYPD investigations.
- The civilian representative is empowered to report to the court at any time if there are violations of the Handschu guidelines, is required to report to the court if there are systematic violations, and is required to report to the court on an annual basis.
- The mayor is prohibited from abolishing the civilian representative position without judicial approval, and abolition by order of the court is only permitted if there have not been systemic violations for a period of three years.
- The civilian representative is specifically authorized to review not just the opening or extension of investigations, but also how they are conducted. In addition, the civilian representative is specifically authorized to review the propriety of the use or extension of use of undercover officers or confidential informants.