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By Nermeen Arastu
The New York Police Department is sorely in need of independent oversight.
The NYPD’s use of an anti-Muslim propaganda film, “The Third Jihad” — and the role of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly in the documentary — demands accountability.
The NYPD showed “The Third Jihad,” a bigoted piece of anti-Muslim propaganda, to 1,500 NYPD officers during their training. The feature-length film portrays Muslim-Americans as violent, nihilistic militants with the sole agenda of infiltrating the United States. With broad strokes, it tries to persuade viewers that the American way of life is under immediate threat from the American Muslim community.
The NYPD then compounded this terrible blunder by lying about it. Spokesperson Paul Browne said that the film was shown only a couple of times and that Kelly didn’t intend to appear in it, suggesting that the filmmakers had recycled footage from elsewhere. But it turns out that the documentary was shown on a continuous loop, and that Kelly actually did do an interview specifically for the movie.
When Kelly had his spokesperson lie about the circumstances of his appearance, he displayed cowardice and dishonesty. To propagate racism is dangerous; to lie about it is unpardonable.
The NYPD placed prejudicial fear in the hearts and minds of law enforcement. When police are taught to fear an entire community, they behave sloppily, ignore protocol and overreach boundaries.
It’s especially troubling that this is happening in New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg brags that he has the seventh-largest army in the world and where the police already have been engaging in excessive surveillance programs and overzealous stop-and-frisk policies.
But the use of racial profiling under the auspices of intelligence gathering in our country is nothing new. As the smoke was still settling over Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government started using census data to map the whereabouts of Japanese-Americans, round them up and place them in internment camps. Over the next four years, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans had been displaced, detained and harassed — and not a single one of them was ever convicted of espionage.
Considering our history, we ought to be wary of infringing on the civil liberties of any Americans.
Supporters of overbroad policing often claim: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” So if Kelly and the NYPD have nothing to hide, then they should not fear an independent oversight committee with compulsory powers to subpoena information. If they have nothing to hide, they should just tell the truth.
That’s what was expected of them in the first place.
Nermeen Arastu is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Rights Project at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is a member of the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition. She also serves on the board of the Muslim Bar Association of New York. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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