Racial Profiling Backfires: historically marginalized communities unite in NY

Before Muslims were aware of mass spying and racial profiling, other communities were already in the battle to end discriminatory policing. In the 1985 Handschu v. Special Services Divisi case, undercover and surveillance techniques on religious and political organizations were challenged. The courts acted to restrict these techniques only to cases where there was specific information linking organizations and individuals to criminal activity. The FBI's Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) also conducted surveillance and interrogations of various political organizations and civil rights organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). These samples from recent history provide a glimpse into the use of surveillance techniques by our government to disempower those who challenge the dominant political powers.

The NYPD Stop & Frisk program and Mass Surveillance of Muslims are unfortunately another violation to add the list of historical abuses of power.  Unlawful racial profiling is currently being used by the NYPD -funded with our tax dollars- to disempower and disenfranchise particular communities and voices.

While these policies serve to marginalize and divide our communities, they have in fact done the opposite.  Last week, diverse communities from across New York rallied on the front steps of City Hall in solidarity to show support for legislation and policies that will end racial profiling and unlawful surveillance. It was a historic victory. 


Photo Credit: Communities United for Police Reform (CPR)

People of all backgrounds came together and stood for change, and I was honored to be among them. We demanded our city council members serve their constituents and uphold the constitution; To provide us with a police department that protects our communities, not one that discriminates and profiles us based on our ethnicity, race, gender, religion, or political ideas. And we urged policy-makers not to cower to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly's public pressure to ignore the concerns of Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and other communities who are targeted by the police. 

It is amid this public pressure and campaign of disinformation that last week seemed unlikely. How could a bunch of marginalized people from across New York overcome the command of our own Mayor and police commissioner? 

But that's exactly what happened. In the early hours of Thursday morning, after 2:00AM, the City Council submitted a veto-proof majority vote for a the End Discriminatory Profiling Bill (Intro 1080) and the NYPD Oversight Bill (Intro 1079)

 Council Memebers Jumanee Williams and Brad Lander led the effort to pass the CSA at the City Council

Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) -a coalition of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists from across New York- has been at the forefront of the effort to make our communities safer by ending NYPD policies that unfairly target various groups of people. Through its member organizations and community supporters, CPR has been able to link people and issues from across New York for a common cause -to end discriminatory policing. 

CPR's member organizations include the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) who recently challenged the NYPD stop & frisk program at trial in Floyd,et al. v. City of New York. While Stop & Frisk is not normally seen as a 'Muslim issue', New York Muslims became active advocates against the practice in solidarity with other marginilized communities. Muslim organizations including CAIR organized a day to 'pack the courtroom' during the Floyd trial to show our support to end discriminatory policing and solidarity with the communities impacted by it. 

This solidarity was again on display in mid June when the announcement of another lawsuit was made in front of One Police Plaza. Like the principled stand against stop & frisk, these same organizations and community members united to challenge NYPD mass surveillance of Muslim communities. 


Through the efforts in the streets, in our communities, in Albany, at the City Hall, and in the courtrooms, it has become evident that race, religion, gender, immigration status, sexual orientation, culture, or income has not been an obstacle to organizing to change the NYPD. While it appears the NYPD and our Mayor believe our race or religion predisposes us to crime, we reminded them that instead it predisposes us to justice.   

At each of these major events, and for each of these major issues, diverse communites of diverse backgrounds stood side by side in solidarity to make history, and to make a statement—Justice for All of Us!

Zohaib is a student at the New York University, and a Government Affairs Intern at CAIR-New York. As an intern with CAIR-NY he has monitored legislation at the federal, state anmd local level that impacts the Muslim community.