Andy Urban 03-09-2015
A man prays at the Islamic Cultural Center in Newark, included on a surveillance

A man prays at the Islamic Cultural Center in Newark, included on a surveillance list by the NYPD. Image via RNS/The Star-Ledger

There are Rutgers students and graduates whose futures are in jeopardy because they were placed under surveillance by the NYPD — operating outside of its jurisdiction — for no other reason than they practice Islam.

This troubling reality is at the heart of the lawsuit Hassan v. City of New York, which was argued before judges of the Third Circuit Appellate Court in Philadelphia in January. One of the Rutgers plaintiffs taking part in the complaint worries that she will not be able to pursue a career in international social work, since background checks will link her to a spying program that incorrectly claimed it would expose the “likely whereabouts of terrorists.”

Rutgers students had no connections to terrorist activities whatsoever. Their “wrongdoing” amounts to being members of the campus Muslim Student Associations in Newark and New Brunswick, which were infiltrated by undercover NYPD agents.

The injuries caused by the NYPD’s spying do not end with damaged career prospects. The emotional and psychological effects of surveillance can also be seen in the anxiety that the Rutgers plaintiffs express about discussing their religion or praying in public, since any behavior that identifies them as Muslim has been deemed grounds for suspicion.

Last year, Newark District Court Judge William J. Martini granted New York City’s motion to dismiss Hassan v. City of New York during the case’s initial hearing, and denied the plaintiffs legal standing on the grounds that they could not prove “injury in fact.” This dubious conclusion writes off spying as innocuous and harmless.

the Web Editors 01-02-2015

1. Here Is What Happens When Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type Makes A New Year’s Resolution
These may or may not be scarily accurate... 

2. The Birth of a New Civil Rights Movement
“The shattering events of 2014, beginning with Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, in August, did more than touch off a national debate about police behavior, criminal justice and widening inequality in America. In 2014, the new social justice movement became a force that the political mainstream had to reckon with.”

3. 10 Resolutions for 2015
“We often only use the word in the context of this season, but “resolution” is a nuanced noun. Some of its definitions include: A firm decision to do or not to do something; the quality of being determined or resolute; the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter. In a world of seemingly endless conflicts, I sure like the sound of that. We need more of all of these qualities just now in this brand new year.”

4. The Tragedy of the American Military
“The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.”

Jim Wallis 12-23-2014
paul prescott / Shutterstock.com

paul prescott / Shutterstock.com

Hope is not a feeling. It is a decision — a choice you make based on what we call faith or moral conscience, whatever most deeply motivates you.

I have said that for many years, but this Advent and Christmas season tests my words — even in my own heart.

This is not a time that many of us are feeling a great deal of hope. I hear that from many friends and allies as well.

In fact, many events this year feel like they have sucked the hope right out of us.

And yet, even in the midst of terrible events and stories, the possibilities of hope still exist depending on what we decide to do for reasons of faith and conscience. In fact, people of faith and conscience are already making a difference in the most difficult situations and places.

And that gives me hope. This season of Advent, in the Christian tradition, is a call to patient waiting.

Christmas is the celebration of God literally coming into the world in order to change it.

Ryan Stewart 12-05-2014

Protesters march in downtown Washington, D.C., on March 4. Photo by Kaeley McEvoy / Sojourners

As I followed protesters along the National Mall after the non-indictment of New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, I was particularly struck by the comments of one black gentleman named Houston. Putting down a sign that said “Boycott Christmas,” he took a speaker, called for quiet, and, in the midst of the crowd, began to preach:

“We must move on to that new day in which justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. It is time for black and whites to take hand and hand and move this nation beyond the pitiful historical dilemma … So black and white together, we must move on to where even the stones will shout out, ‘It’s time for America to be one.’”

“Amen,” someone shouted.

Amen, indeed.

Drawing on Amos 5:24 and Luke 19:40, Houston had brought the riches of a deep biblical tradition to bear on our contemporary political struggle. Like the early Christians, he called not only for justice but also for reconciliation between races. His faith had inspired him to act.

Or so I thought.

the Web Editors 12-04-2014
Screenshot of Bill Hybels. Video courtesy The Tungsten Collective/Vimeo.

Screenshot of Bill Hybels. Video courtesy The Tungsten Collective/Vimeo.

Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor for Willow Creek Community Church, spoke out last week on the ongoing Ferguson protests. In the video, shared this week by Willow Creek Church-affiliated artist group The Tungsten Collective, Hybels calls on people of faith to listen to the pain and hurt expressed by many since the August shooting of Michael Brown.

He quotes James 1:19, urging people of faith to “be quick to listen, slow to speak.”

Hybels has spoken out on racial reconciliation for years, and here underscores one reason why reconciliation work is often so difficult.

“It’s just so much easier to live in your own story than it is to try to understand the narrative of the other,” Hybels said.

Indeed, when it comes to interactions with law enforcement, the black experience and the white experience in America are “two totally different narratives [that often] … don’t touch each other until a Ferguson happens,” he said.

At one point the megachurch pastor emphasizes — almost uncomfortably lightheartedly — just how untouched he’s been by fear, crime, and violence in his neighborhood.

“[Peace] is all I’ve ever known. I’ve never had a single adversarial experience with a law enforcement officer in my entire life,” he said.

But in drawing a distinction in the difference of experience, he echoes a Jia Tolentino column in TIME earlier this fall on how social divisions are revealed based on which evils we mourn and pledge to fight against. While Hybels falls short of explicitly naming a power and privilege differential, he urges humility, listening, and seeking understanding among people of faith — all the more resonant today after the non-indictment ruling on the choking death of Eric Garner.

WATCH the full video here.

the Web Editors 12-03-2014
Screenshot from ForeverStars video on Youtube

Screenshot from ForeverStars video on Youtube

Just over one week after a grand jury elected not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, a Staten Island grand jury has cleared an NYPD police officer of any criminal charge in the death of Eric Garner.

The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, a white male, choked Mr. Garner to death as other police officers stomped on his head. Mr. Garner, 43, suffered from asthma and was suspected of illegally selling cigarettes.Along with other evidence, the grand jury viewed a video recorded by bystanders, which fully captured the violent arrest.

Omar Sacirbey 04-16-2014

Former NYPD Police Chief Ray Kelly. RNS photo courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Muslim and civil rights groups welcomed the news that the New York City Police Department’s Demographics Unit will disband but said they still fear they may be targets of warrantless surveillance.

Muslim Advocates filed a lawsuit in 2012 to stop the program, and the group was later joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“We need to hear from the mayor and NYPD officials that the policy itself has been ended and that the department will no longer apply mass surveillance or other forms of biased and predatory policing to any faith-based community,” said Ryan Mahoney, president of another Muslim civil rights group, the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Omar Sacirbey 09-11-2013
 Photo courtesy Talat Hamdani

Salman Hamdani, an NYPD cadet and EMT who was killed on 9/11. Photo courtesy Talat Hamdani

It’s been five years now that Talat Hamdani has been able to talk about her son without crying, but she still prefers mostly not to tell his story.

“It’s all over the Internet,” she said.

She’s stopped talking about how she initially didn’t worry when her son, Mohammad Salman Hamdani, who was a cadet with the New York City Police Department, didn’t answer his cellphone that night; about how police questioned her and her husband when authorities couldn’t find their son’s body, to see if he had any terrorist connections; about the New York Post headline a month after the attacks — “Missing – Or Hiding? – Mystery Of NYPD Cadet From Pakistan,” that cast him as a suspect in the 9/11 attacks.

Omar Sacirbey 07-26-2013
Photo courtesy RNS/Flickr.

Michael Bloomberg speaks in April 2009. Photo courtesy RNS/Flickr.

Muslim-American civil rights groups are criticizing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for vetoing a bill on Tuesday that would have created an independent inspector general to oversee the New York City Police Department.

The New York City Council passed the bill June 27 as a check against controversial NYPD policies that critics say violate the civil rights of Muslim and other minority New Yorkers. Reports that the NYPD spied on mosques, Muslim businesses, organizations, and students began surfacing in 2011.

“The NYPD is out of control and discriminates against innocent Americans, and Mayor Bloomberg has let Americans down by allowing the NYPD to use discriminatory policies without any accountability,” said Glenn Katon, legal director for Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group based in San Francisco.

Omar Sacirbey 03-11-2013

Muslim and civil rights organizations say a New York Police Department program to secretly monitor Islamic communities has created so much fear and suspicion among Muslims that many find it impossible to lead normal lives.

A new 56-page report, “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims,” details how the NYPD’s covert surveillance caused Muslims to refrain from activism and change their appearance so as not to appear too Muslim, and sowed suspicion among community members.

As a result, the Monday report asserts, trust between Muslims and police has broken down. The program, in which NYPD policemen secretly visited mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and student and civic associations beyond New York’s five boroughs, was established in 2001 but uncovered by The Associated Press in 2011.

A spokesperson for the NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Jason Grant 07-11-2012
RNS photo by John Munson/The Star-Ledger

Syed Farhaj Hassan, RNS photo by John Munson/The Star-Ledger

At 26, Syed Farhaj Hassan was a devout Muslim, and a man who took a lot of pride in being one of the relatively few Muslim Americans to join the military and then go to war in Iraq.

He dropped out of Rutgers University and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2001. He was sent to Iraq two years later, where he served with a unit that assessed and planned the rebuilding of places like the war-torn city of Hillah, where he even slept some nights in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces.

Born in Chicago and raised in New Jersey, he’d grown up engrossed in military-themed TV shows like “M*A*S*H” and “G.I. Joe.” And nearly a decade after his war service, he’s still patriotic — he’s even an active reservist in a civil affairs brigade.

But these days, Hassan is also frustrated and upset with an arm of the U.S. government. Hassan said that he’s been “betrayed” by the New York City police department for its years of post-9/11 spying on Muslim communities in New Jersey.

Omar Sacirbey 06-06-2012
RNS photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly. RNS photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Muslim civil rights activists are headed to court to end a New York City Police Department program that they say violates their constitutional rights by spying on Muslims based only on their religion.

The lawsuit, Hassan et al. v. City of New York, is the first legal challenge against the NYPD's alleged spying and profiling of Muslim Americans in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that was first reported by The Associated Press last year. The suit, to be filed June 6 in a federal court in New Jersey, seeks an “immediate end” to the NYPD surveillance program, and calls for the NYPD to destroy all records of information obtained through the program.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a San Francisco-based civil rights group representing the plaintiffs, said civil rights groups, congressmen, and other officials have called on U.S., New York, and New Jersey officials to investigate the NYPD’s alleged spying, but to no avail.

“It’s come to the point that the community feels like politicians have failed them, so now they’re turning to the courts to seek justice,” Khera said.

Ted Sherman 05-29-2012
RNS photo by Noah K. Murray/courtesy The Star Ledger NEWARK, N.J. (RNS) Islamic

New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa speaks in January, 2012. RNS photo by Noah K. Murray/courtesy The Star Ledger

Islamic leaders say they are shocked that a review by New Jersey's state attorney general into the New York Police Department’s secret surveillance operation targeting Muslim businesses and mosques in New Jersey found the NYPD did nothing wrong.

The three-month probe, ordered by Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, concluded there was no evidence to show the NYPD’s activities in the state violated New Jersey’s civil or criminal laws.

"Based on what we saw, their conduct was permissible," said one of the officials involved with the review who was not at liberty to discuss the report publicly. "There was no evidence of illegal wiretaps or search and seizures. We’re not seeing any violations of law."

Jason Grant 03-08-2012
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

NYU students attend town hall to discuss NYPD's surveillance of Muslim communities on Feb. 29.(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

NEWARK, N.J. — As friction over the New York Police Department's spying on New Jersey Muslims continues to grow, the state's top FBI officer said the uproar is damaging his agency's ability to gather important counterterrorism intelligence.

"What we have now is (Muslim communities) ... that they're not sure they trust law enforcement in general, they're fearing being watched, they're starting to withdraw their activities," Michael Ward, director of the FBI's Newark division, said Tuesday (March 6).

"And the impact of that sinking tide of cooperation means that we don't have our finger on the pulse of what's going on in the community as well -- we're less knowledgeable, we have blind spots, and there's more risk."

In his first public comments on the deepening controversy, Ward said the FBI has spent the years after 9/11 opening lines of communication with New Jersey's Muslim communities.

the Web Editors 11-16-2011

"The founders never intended indefinite free speech. They assumed after two weeks any protest would be wiped out by small pox.” — Stephen Colbert

Dave MacMillan 11-15-2011
Protest sign at OWS in NYC today. Image via Facebook.

Protest sign at OWS in NYC today. Image via Facebook.

They came at 1 am.  

Several hundred police in full riot gear in a precision military operation. They gathered at nearby assembly points out of sight of Zuccotti Park and then simultaneously came trotting out to surround the park like the army scene from The Blues Brothers movie.

Next they handed out fliers and announced by bullhorn that all personal property would be removed from the park, and that it could be reclaimed at a Department of Sanitation garage. Instead, everything was thrown into garbage trucks and crushed by the compactor’s blades. ...

Most of the occupiers were steamrolled out of the park in this manner. Because there was no tent space when I got there I was sleeping on the sidewalk at night, and packing everything back up each morning, so I was able to save everything, but for several items I kept in the OWS kitchen.

A group of more than a hundred Occupiers retreated to the kitchen at the center of the park and chained themselves by their necks to a tree. They were tear-gassed where they sat and were removed by means we have not yet learned of, and we don’t yet know what injuries were sustained.

the Web Editors 11-15-2011

The Latest News on Occupy Wall Street Under Siege: Judge Allows Occupiers Back In, 5K+ Books from OWS Library Destroyed by Police, Journalists Arrested, Protesters Occupy Church Lot and more. Plus, LIVE STREAMING VIDEO FROM OWS IN NYC inside.