Aya Saed | Notes from an NYPD subject
Seeds of Reason | Law enforcement has no grounds to profile racial and religious groups
February 23, 2012, 11:54 pm·
Seeds of Reason
When I was a child, I would always get upset with my parents for their constant need to monitor my actions, even though they had every reason to. They had heard from my teachers that I never paid attention in class. Once, they even caught me sneaking out of the house at 1 a.m. to play tag with my friends.
Fast forward a few years and I find myself under the watch of another guardian. However, this time around, the attention is completely unwarranted. Last weekend, The Associated Press reported that the NYPD has been monitoring the websites, blogs and forums of the Muslim Student Association at Penn and various other schools.
Records revealed that police officials had been tracking events and details on board members through the MSA website during my tenure as one.
Although it was not illegal for the NYPD to regularly check MSA websites since they are in the public domain, their intentions were questionable. There was nothing that occurred within the Muslim community at Penn to raise suspicions. Members, myself included, were targeted simply because of our religion.
The NYPD was even compelled to send informants into college campuses without any cause for concern. Adnan Zulfiqar, the former Muslim Chaplain at Penn, said, “the problem here is that this seems like a fishing expedition. You have no tangible reason to monitor.”
At other campuses, the NYPD recorded the number of times students prayed and how pious certain individuals were. As someone who is constantly aiming to complete the five required daily prayers, I find myself asking why devotion to a religion can be interpreted as a terroristic threat.
The act of prayer is antithetical to violence. Rather than something that incites hatred, prayer has offered me solace, especially during my most overwhelming and stressful days as a student.
So why did the NYPD go to such lengths? Mayor Bloomberg explained that in the past, they have arrested or charged 12 people who were once associated with their college’s Muslim Student Associations. What Bloomberg failed to mention, however, was whether this is a statistically significant number to justify monitoring several Muslim Student Associations across state lines.
MSAs foster a sense of community among Muslims in college campuses. Often, these organizations reflect a diversity of perspectives, sects and ethnicities. MSAs are not designed to be safe havens for those plotting against our country.
If the NYPD is really looking to stomp out terrorism, they should stop targeting MSAs and should instead aim to engage Muslim students as allies.
The profiling of a minority group as been hot-button issue for years and has been proven to fail. According to the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University, of the half a million pedestrians that were ‘randomly’ stopped by the NYPD in 2006, 89 percent were black and/or Latino. Only 0.13 percent had firearms and 7 percent warranted an arrest.
Thirty years ago, J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, kept profiles on possible communists, leaders in the black community and various other ‘suspicious’ groups. In 2012, this kind of action should simply be intolerable, yet in continues and has even encroached on our college campus.
Muslim college students — including those at Penn — have been added to a laundry list of marginalized groups in America. This is the “harsh reality of the world,” that Penn President Amy Gutmann alluded to in her statement to University Council.
In order to move forward, members of the Penn community ought to stand alongside the MSA to protest profiling of any kind. Join the MSA on College Green at noon today to learn more about the issue, why it recurs and how we can prevent it from happening in the future.
On College Green, there will also be an opportunity to learn more about the Freedom of Information Act — which gives U.S. citizens the right to access information that has been stored about them by government and law enforcement agencies. Tomorrow, I’m going to file a FOIA request and encourage you to do the same.
Before this incident, I was pretty confident that I was in no way subjected to the scrutiny of American law enforcement, but I was naïve. The same might apply to you.
Aya Saed is a College junior from Washington, D.C. She is a former board member of the Muslim Students Association at Penn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Seeds of Reason appears every other Friday.