Even before it showed up in a secret police report, everybody in Bay Ridge knew that Mousa Ahmad’s café was being watched. Strangers loitered across the street from the café in this Brooklyn neighborhood. Quiet men would hang around for hours, listening to other customers. Once police raided the barber shop next door, searched through the shampoos and left. Customers started staying away for fear of ending up on a blacklist, and eventually Ahmad had to close the place.
But when asked if he would consider legal action against the police, Ahmad just shrugs. “The police do what they want,” he said, standing in front of the empty storefront where his café used to be. “If I went to court to sue, what do you think would happen? Things would just get worse.”
It’s a common sentiment among those who are considering their legal options in the wake of an Associated Press investigation into a massive New York Police Department surveillance program targeting Muslims.
Many of the targets feel they have little recourse — and because privacy laws have weakened dramatically since 9/11, they may be right, legal experts say. “It’s really not clear that people can do anything if they’ve been subjected to unlawful surveillance anymore,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.