Jewish Responses to Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Racism

For Immediate Release

Contact:  
Amy Helfant jaicpress@gmail.com
Donna Nevel  denevel@gmail.com

Jewish Responses to Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Racism

Nov. 20, 2013   Tomorrow, November 21st, at 7:30 PM, Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition (JAIC) will present a roundtable conversation on “Jewish Responses to Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Racism” at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, 57 Bethune Street, Manhattan.  The event is endorsed by Tikkun Magazine.

Panelists include Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah; Rabbi Guy Austrian of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center; Marjorie Dove Kent, executive director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice; and Donna Nevel, community psychologist and activist/writer on Islamophobia.  Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, will moderate.

“We are very excited to have this distinguished group of speakers, and we thank Rabbi Kleinbaum and the CBST community for hosting this event, “ said Vilkomerson, who also stressed that “we hope this crucial conversation will take place in Jewish community spaces across the city.”

According to civil rights lawyer Alan Levine of Jews Say No, “The conversation is an opportunity for us to challenge ourselves as a community about whether we are doing enough to battle Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.  My generation grew up hearing about how the world stood by when we were being persecuted– with the current climate of anti-Muslim sentiment and action on the streets and by the NYPD, we are called upon to ask ourselves the question of where we stand during this time.”

The panelists and audience will engage with a range of issues, including:
• How can we partner with the Muslim community and others fighting Islamophobia and racism?
• How can we build support within the Jewish community, and why are these issues important to Jews?
• What strategies have we found effective in bringing about change?
• What challenges do we face?

This is the last in a three-part series hosted by JAIC. The first two parts, with speakers from the Muslim community as well as other impacted communities, were “Making the Connections, Organizing for Change: Anti-Muslim Hate Speech, Government Policies, Police Surveillance, and Stop and Frisk” and “Islamophobia, Empire & U.S. Politics: What Are Its Roots? How Do We Respond?”

The CBST sanctuary is wheelchair accessible.

The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition is composed of Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and Jews Say No!

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Jewish Responses to Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Racism, November 21, 7:30pm

jaic-jewish_responses

 

We invite you to join us in a roundtable conversation about how we can strengthen our work as Jews committed to challenging Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. We hope the conversation will help us think more deeply about how we can most effectively engage as partners and allies in one of the most pressing and important civil and human rights issues of our time.

Rabbi Guy Austrian
former Cooperberg-Rittmaster Rabbinical Intern at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah; currently rabbi of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center

Marjorie Dove Kent
director, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
Congregation Beit Simchat Torah

Donna Nevel
community psychologist and activist/writer on Islamophobia

Moderated by Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition and director, Jewish Voice for Peace

The roundtable speakers will open the discussion with questions such as:

• How can we be strong allies with the Muslim community and those fighting Islamophobia and racism?
• How can we engage with, and build support within the Jewish community around these critical issues?
• What strategies have we found effective in bringing about change?
• What challenges do we face in doing this work?

Thursday, November 21 7:30pm at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah 
57 Bethune Street, Manhattan
between Washington St & West Side Highway

Subways:
A, C, E, 14th St. L to Eighth Avenue
1 to 14th St & 7th Avenue

The sanctuary is wheelchair accessible (enter courtyard from Bank Street, proceed to main lobby, take elevator to 2nd floor, and ring doorbell). The bathrooms are not accessible.

All are welcome to join us.

This is the last in a three-part series hosted by JAIC. The first two parts, with speakers from the Muslim community as well as other impacted communities, were “Making the Connections, Organizing for Change: Anti-Muslim Hate Speech, Government Policies, Police Surveillance, and Stop and Frisk” and “Islamophobia, Empire & U.S. Politics: What Are Its Roots? How Do We Respond?”

This event is endorsed by Tikkun Magazine
Facebook link

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Letter to the Department of Justice requesting investigations into NYPD’s discriminatory surveillance of American Muslim communities

October 24, 2013

Jocelyn Samuels
Acting Assistant Attorney General
United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Main
Washington, D.C. 20530

Jonathan M. Smith
Chief, Special Litigation Section
United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Special Litigation Section
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuels and Section Chief Smith:

The undersigned civil rights, faith, community, and advocacy groups request that the Civil
Rights Division of the Department of Justice commence a prompt investigation under 42 U.S.C. § 14141 into the New York City Police Department’s (“NYPD”) discriminatory surveillance of American Muslim communities.

As shown by the NYPD’s own documents, for over a decade, the Department has engaged in unlawful religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslims in New York City (and beyond). This surveillance is based on the false and unconstitutional premise, reflected in the NYPD’s published “radicalization” theory, that Muslim religious belief, practices, and community engagement are grounds for law enforcement scrutiny. That is a premise rooted in ignorance and bias: it is wrong and unfairly stigmatizes Muslims, who are a law-abiding, diverse, and integral part of our nation and New York City. Unsurprisingly, the NYPD’s surveillance program has had far-reaching, deeply negative effects on Muslims’ constitutional rights by chilling speech and religious practice and harming religious goals and missions. It has frayed the social fabric of Muslim communities by breeding anxiety, distrust, and fear. The NYPD’s biased
policing practices hurt not only Muslims, but all communities who rightfully expect that law enforcement will serve and protect America’s diverse population equally, without discrimination.

Under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 § 210401, the United States Attorney General is authorized to conduct investigations concerning “a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers . . . that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” 42 U.S.C. § 14141(a). Where there is reasonable cause to believe that such a pattern or practice has occurred, the Attorney General may pursue equitable and declaratory relief in a civil action. Id. § 14141(b).1

A Department of Justice investigation is warranted here: the attached appendix details the NYPD’s unlawful policies and practices and their resulting harms to Muslims.

We respectfully request that the Civil Rights Division promptly investigate the NYPD’s
unconstitutional program of religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslims.

Sincerely,

National Organizations
Advocacy for Justice and Peace Committee of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia
American Civil Liberties Union
American Humanist Association
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Arab American Institute
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Blacks in Law Enforcement of America
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
Center for Inquiry
Center for National Security Studies
Center for New Community
Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Defending Dissent Foundation
Foundation for Ethnic Understanding
Franciscan Action Network
Groundswell, Auburn Seminary
Hindu American Foundation
Hmong National Development, Inc.
Interfaith Alliance
International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD)
Justice Strategies
KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights
Muslim Advocates
Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA)
Muslim Public Affairs Council
NAACP
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Immigration Project
National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC)
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
People For the American Way Foundation
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Public Policy Advocacy Network of the Synod of the Northeast (Presbyterian Church USA)
Rights Working Group
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The Sikh Coalition
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
United Church of Christ – Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
USPAK Foundation

State Organizations
A Better Way Foundation
American Center for Outreach
American Muslim Advisory Council (AMACTN)
Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS)
Arkansas Interfaith Alliance
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago
Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission
CAIR – Michigan Chapter
CAIR-CT
Center for Intercultural Organizing
Civic Trust Public Lobbying Company
Council on American Islamic Relations-Texas, Dallas Fort Worth
Council on American-Islamic Relations in New Jersey
Council on American-Islamic Relations of Washington State (CAIR-WA)
Georgia Association of Muslim Lawyers
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Muslim Bar Association of New York
New England Muslim Bar Association
New England Synod – ELCA
New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association
New York Civil Liberties Union
New York Immigration Coalition
North Carolina Justice Center
Raksha, Inc
South Asian Bar Association of Arizona
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
The Council on American Islamic Relations of New York (CAIR-NY)
VOCAL New York

Local Organizations
Access California Services
Adhikaar
Arab American Action Network (AAAN)
Arab American Association of New York
Arab Muslim American Federation – New York
ASHA for Women
Asian Law Alliance
Asian Pacific Community in Action
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities
Capital Area Muslim Bar Association
Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities)
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR)
Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility Project
DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving
FIERCE
Interfaith Alliance, Long Island Chapter
Interfaith Center of New York
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace
Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York
Jewish Voice for Peace – New York City Chapter
Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice
Jews Say No!
Justice Committee
JVP-Westchester
Metropolitan New York Synod
Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood (MIB)
Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC)
Muslim Bar Association of Chicago
Muslim Bar Association of Southern California
Muslim Consultative Network
New York City Anti-Violence Project
New York Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE)
One America
South Asian Bar Association of Northern California
The Arab American Family Support Center
The Interfaith Alliance – Long Island Chapter
The Interfaith Alliance of Rochester
The Legal Aid Society
The Public Science Project
Tulsa Interfaith Alliance
Turning Point for Women and Families
VOCAL-NY
Westchester Coalition Against Islamophobia
Westchester Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute for Nonviolence
Women In Islam, Inc.

See the full text of the letter, including citations, here: Letter to the DOJ requesting investigation into NYPD’s discriminatory surveillance program targeting American Muslim Communities [PDF link]

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Jews Condemn New York City’s Latest Incidents of Racist Violence & Religious Bigotry

For Immediate Release

Contact:
Amy Helfant jaicpress@gmail.com
Donna Nevel denevel@gmail.com

Jews Condemn New York City’s Latest Incidents of Racist Violence & Religious Bigotry

September 26, 2013 Members of the Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition were angered and saddened to learn of the vicious bias-related attacks on Saturday, September 21, in New York City, and join with all those who are fighting to ensure that we live in a city that is safe for all residents. Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a professor at Columbia University, and a companion, a fellow Sikh, were assaulted in upper Manhattan by about a dozen individuals who called them “Osama” and “terrorist” and broke Dr. Singh’s jaw. As part of his Sikh faith, Dr. Singh was wearing a turban. According to a new report, Turban Myths, put out by SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund) and Stanford University, 48% of Americans mis-identify urban wearers as Muslim, and over 20% of Sikh schoolchildren suffer violence as a “price for maintaining their Sikh identity.” As Dr. Singh commented two days after the attack, “Our turban and beard are a trigger for fear in the minds of many Americans” (NY Times, September 23, 2013). Additionally, an individual assaulted a New Jersey woman wearing a hijab and called her a “f**king terrorist,” as she attended a pro-democracy rally in Times Square.

Even as we deplore these vicious attacks on individuals, we view them not as isolated incidents but as part of a systemic assault on the rights and liberties of Muslim, South Asian, and other targeted communities in NYC. While the police are investigating the attack on the two Sikh men as a possible hate crime and have arrested the alleged perpetrator of the assault on the Muslim woman at the rally, the NYPD and public officials, along with right-wing media and a network of anti-Muslim ideologues, must share responsibility for fostering an anti-Muslim atmosphere that encourages people to view both Muslims and those mistaken for Muslims as terrorists. A police department that has guidelines associating those who wear a beard and other signifiers of religious observance with “terrorism,” and implicitly labels all Muslims as terrorist suspects by its surveillance of New York City’s entire Muslim community, sends a message of suspicion and bigotry that fuels such attacks.

We urge members of the Jewish community and all New Yorkers to speak out strongly in our schools, workplaces, community organizations and houses of worship against bigotry, wherever it may occur; and to demand strong responses and action from government leaders and representatives that must include, first and foremost, requiring that the NYPD abandon its anti-Muslim policies. We also encourage as many of us as possible to join community actions and responsesthat are called by our allies during this time. (Our website will list actions as we learn about them.) Attacks on individuals because they are “walking while Sikh” or “standing on the street while Muslim” are simply unacceptable in our city.

The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition (JAIC) consists of three groups: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and Jews Say No! (JSN!). http://www.jewsagainstislamophobia.org/

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Jewish New Year Call for Justice for Muslim Community: “Stop NYPD Surveillance!”

For Immediate Release
September 2, 2013

Contact:
Amy Helfant jaicpress@gmail.com
Donna Nevel denevel@gmail.com 

Jewish New Year Call for Justice for Muslim Community:
“Stop NYPD Surveillance!”

The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition strongly condemns the policies and activities of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), which, the Associated Press has just revealed, designates mosques as “terrorism enterprises” in order to more easily spy on them and infiltrates Muslim community organizations. For years, the NYPD has targeted the Muslim community on the basis of religion. As we approach the Jewish High Holy Days season, we urge all Jews and Jewish institutions—and all New Yorkers—to join us in publicly and unequivocally opposing the NYPD’s unlawful surveillance program.

We were angered, but not surprised, to learn from the AP last week that the NYPD, which sent informants on a Muslim students’ rafting trip in 2008, also had placed informants in mosques: reporting that one mosque is building a gym (planning jujitsu classes), and one young Muslim leader, whose wedding the NYPD videotaped and infiltrated, was organizing camping and paintball trips. All these NYPD activities were part of the newly revealed Terrorism Enterprise Investigations (TEI), which can last for years.  According to the AP article, “the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating a terrorism enterprise.” This surveillance program operates in a discriminatory and abusive manner, like the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, which, as a federal judge recently ruled, unconstitutionally violates the rights of people of color in New York City.

As with earlier NYPD and FBI programs, which focused on African American, anti-war, and other groups, the NYPD program also involves planting informants in the leadership of nonprofit groups. One group targeted by the NYPD is the Arab American Association of New York, a Brooklyn-based social service organization.  The NYPD’s effort to place informants on the boards of groups like AAANY violates the civil liberties of those targeted and threatens all of us who work in pro-justice organizations.

The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition continues to fully support the Muslim community and all those opposing the NYPD’s unjust and unconstitutional attacks on Muslim individuals, religious institutions, and community groups.

The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition (JAIC) consists of three groups: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and Jews Say No! (JSN!). http://www.jewsagainstislamophobia.org/

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Jewish Coalition Reaffirms Commitment to Challenging Islamophobia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Amy Helfant jaicpress@gmail.com
Donna Nevel denevel@gmail.com

Jewish Coalition Reaffirms Commitment to Challenging Islamophobia

Sunday, April 14, 2013 The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition (JAIC) strongly reaffirms its commitment to challenging Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism and calls on the rest of the Jewish community to do the same. While the Great Neck Synagogue has decided not to host Pamela Geller, JAIC is outraged by those synagogues and Jewish institutions that are now offering platforms for Geller’s hate speech. JAIC also condemns those who have been targeting individuals speaking out against hate speech.

“The kind of hate speech we see regularly in New York, coupled with government violations of the rights of the Muslim community, makes it a very unsafe environment for the Muslim community,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace and member of JAIC. “We need to continue to speak out unequivocally against it. Our community needs to take seriously the need to continue to challenge the systems and practices that enable Islamophobia to flourish.”

“As a Jew, when I hear about the NYPD surveillance program against the Muslim community and other ways the Muslim community has been targeted, I am reminded of the state-sponsored anti-Semitism that we endured at different times in our history,” said civil rights lawyer Alan Levine of JAIC. “It was intolerable then when it happened to the Jewish community. It’s intolerable now when it happens to the Muslim community.”

Marjorie Dove Kent, executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, another member organization of the Coalition, said, “Islamophobic rhetoric supports and facilitates programs such as NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim communities. As the recent Mapping Muslims report documents, this program and ones like it have very real harmful effects on individuals and a chilling effect on people’s right to practice their religion and participate in democratic life.”

JAIC joins the Muslim community as it organizes against Islamophobia and racism and for justice and dignity for all communities.

The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition is composed of Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Jews Say No!.

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Great Neck Synagogue Should Condemn Anti-Muslim Bigotry

For Immediate Release
April 4, 2013

Contact:
Donna Nevel denevel@gmail.com
Amy Helfant jaicpress@gmail.com

JEWS AGAINST ISLAMOPHOBIA COALITION SAYS:GREAT NECK SYNAGOGUE SHOULD CONDEMN ANTI-MUSLIM BIGOTRY

During this Passover season, in which we celebrate freedom from slavery and oppression, the Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition is especially outraged that the leaders of the Great Neck Synagogue have chosen Pamela Geller to speak at the synagogue on April 14, rather than condemn–loudly and unambiguously–her record of anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry.

The respected Southern Poverty Law Center lists Stop Islamization of America, a group co-founded by Geller, as a “hate group,” specifically because it repeatedly expounds a view of all Muslims as terrorists, potential terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers. The website of another Geller group, American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), publishes a broad array of anti-Islamic materials that are widely used by extremist right-wing organizations.

Through AFDI, Geller has posted hate ads in Westchester, New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco that vilify an entire religion. Geller and her followers have orchestrated vicious campaigns against Muslims’ right to practice their religion, opposing the building of mosques and cultural centers and fomenting fear about the use of Sharia law. People across the country have joined the Muslim community to oppose these ads and these actions–to ensure that the rights of all our communities are fully protected and that no group is subjected to any form of harassment or racism.

Objecting to the invitation to Geller is not a First Amendment or censorship issue. Only the government can violate someone’s free speech rights. It is one thing to open one’s synagogue for dialogue reflecting different political viewpoints; it is quite another to welcome into it someone who spews racist hatred.

The willingness of an institution like the Great Neck Synagogue to welcome someone who promotes religious bigotry and racism—rather than to condemn such messages and acts—helps to fuel the hate-filled atmosphere in which such ideas thrive within and beyond the Jewish community. This atmosphere has contributed to physical and verbal attacks on Muslims and South Asians as well as to governmental violations of civil rights, such as the NYPD surveillance program against the Muslim community in the metropolitan area and beyond

We stand with all members of the Long Island community who have spoken out against such hatred, and we condemn the attacks that have been made against those who have stood up and called on the synagogue to cancel this invitation.

The Jews Against Islamophobia (JAIC) Coalition consists of three groups: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and Jews Say No! (JSN!). http://www.jewsagainstislamophobia.org/

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JAIC Statement on CUNY CLEAR’s “Mapping Muslims” Report

Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition, March 11, 2013

My name is Jon Moscow. I am speaking on behalf of the Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition, which consists of three organizations: Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and Jews Say No!

We are here to express our solidarity with the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and the members of the Muslim community and to join our voices in endorsing the recommendations of this important report.

This report is truly chilling—in two senses of the word. There is no question that the activities of the NYPD described in the report have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected rights of Muslims, including the rights of free speech, free association, and freedom of religion.

It is also chilling to read the report because the effects of the NYPD activities have all the hallmarks associated with a police state. As in a police state, people become careful of what they say and to whom they say it. They become careful of whom they hang out with, what jokes they tell, what political opinions they express, where they travel. People hesitate to practice their religion and think twice about which mosque they attend. People hesitate to trust one another and hesitate to trust the police even when they need their assistance. Over every action of daily life hangs the knowledge that the police or their agents may be monitoring, recording and interpreting or misinterpreting these actions. Because the surveillance is cloaked in secrecy, it is impossible to challenge on a day-to-day basis. And it may be difficult or dangerous for those affected to stand up and stand out in publicly criticizing it.

Which makes it even more important for members of all communities to stand up and stand out in criticizing the police surveillance of the Muslim community and to call for full police accountability, as called for in the recommendations.

The authors of the report call on communities to hold community-wide discussions about surveillance in order to generate initiatives and mobilize constituents to respond to NYPD policies and to contain their negative impacts. We second this call and we particularly urge Jewish congregations and community organizations to hold these discussions.

Jewish history tells us clearly that this kind of surveillance is antithetical to a free society. It also tells us the critical need of affected communities to be joined by allies.

As Jews, and New Yorkers we say loudly and clearly, this is not only a Muslim problem. It is a problem for all of us. If silence implies assent, WE WILL NOT BE SILENT.

Read the report here: Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on Muslim Americans

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Nevel and Bulkin: How ADL Fuels Islamophobia

“With Liberty and Justice For Some: How the Anti-Defamation League Fuels Islamophobia The ADL’s anti-Arab, pro-Israel mindset has led the group to perpetuate an anti-Muslim worldview.” by JAIC members Elly Bulkin and Donna Nevel

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Coverage, Video of “Making the Connections and Organizing for Change”

This Jan 30 report on the panel is by Alex Kane of Mondoweiss. The original article includes photos and a video link to the speakers’ presentations (Credit to Joe Friendly). Click on the link below to access these.

http://mondoweiss.net/2013/01/islamophobic-surveillance-criminalization.html

Islamophobic subway ads, “stop and frisk” and the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance program–what’s the connection? Activists and experts spoke out last night to make explicit the links between all of these seemingly separate strands of discrimination in the city.

A packed house of some 125 people gathered in an Upper West Side church January 29 to hear about Islamophobia and “stop and frisk” in New York City. The event was organized by the Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition (JAIC), a grassroots group dedicated to being a Jewish voice against the scourge of anti-Muslim sentiment that has found a home in some Jewish establishment organizations. The event, titled “Making Connections and Organizing for Change: Anti-Muslim Hate Speech, Police Surveillance and Stop and Frisk,” reinforced the burgeoning coalition between Black and Latino groups working on “stop and frisk,” Muslim activists working on Islamophobia and Jewish activists supporting that work. The diverse crowd who showed up spoke to that coalition.

The panel was moderated by Marjorie Dove Kent, the dynamic head of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JREJ), a member group of JAIC. Other speakers included: Muneer Awad, the head of the Council on American Islamic Relations of New York (CAIR-NY); civil rights lawyer Alan Levine; community organizer Frank Lopez; and Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab American Association of New York.

“None of these acts of Islamophobia,” like Pamela Geller’s anti-Muslim subway advertisements, “are isolated,” said Levine. The civil rights lawyer who authored a National Law Journal article on why NYPD surveillance was unconstitutional said that acts like Geller putting up hateful subway ads are encouraged by the NYPD’s assumption that Muslims are a suspect class of people.

“The defense of the surveillance program by the police chief and the mayor gives force to Pam Geller’s bigotry,” said Levine. CAIR-NY’s Awad made a similar point in a brief interview with me after the panel (I showed up a little late and missed his talk). “It’s not just anti-Muslim hate crimes,” said Awad–it’s the entire culture of Islamophobia that has developed and institutionalized in the city.

Lopez, a poet and filmmaker affiliated with the organization Brotherhood/Sister Sol, detailed how “stop and frisk” practices by the NYPD have criminalized whole communities in the city. “Stop and frisk” refers to the police practice of stopping and patting down city residents suspected of a crime. But it is a policy that has overwhelmingly fallen on the Black and Latino communities in the city, and is now being challenged by a series of civil rights lawsuits aimed at radically changing the NYPD practice.

The NYPD’s wholesale surveillance of Muslim communities was perhaps the main focus throughout the night, but links between “stop and frisk” and the surveillance program were made explicit. “For me, whether you’re spying on the Muslim community, or stopping and frisking Blacks and Latinos, it’s the same thing,” said Sarsour, a Palestinian-American Muslim who is a prominent figure in the fight against Islamophobia in New York. “Let’s stop separating the issues,” she said, noting that both surveillance and “stop and frisk” amounts to criminalizing communities of color. Sarsour also noted that a significant chunk of the New York Muslim community is Black.

Those connections have already been taken up by activists in a concrete way. Much of the question and answer session was dedicated to discussing and advocating for a set of bills to reform NYPD practices that are currently pending in the City Council. Known as the Community Safety Act, the bills would create an Inspector General for the NYPD; ban profiling by the police department; protect against unlawful searches; and require officers to identify and explain themselves to the public. It is meant as a corrective to what many see as an out of control NYPD that is unaccountable to the city residents they serve. The coalition working on pushing through these bills, which has considerable support in the City Council, is called Communities United for Police Reform, and it includes civil liberties organizations, Black and Latino groups, Muslim groups and Jewish groups.

But New York is a town where the mayor holds much of the power in city government, and so the mayoral candidates’ positions on these bills and issues is of paramount importance. Bloomberg is a lost cause, and is fully behind the NYPD’s practices and its chief, Ray Kelly. But Bloomberg’s term is up this year, and a new crop of candidates are angling for the seat.

Sarsour noted that “stop and frisk” has been elevated into a major issue for the mayoral candidates, but spying on Muslims has not.

As public advocate, an office dedicated to being a watchdog over city government, Democrat Bill de Blasio has spoken out against how “stop and frisk” is currently used. So have other Democratic mayoral candidates, including the presumed front-runner and current City Council speaker Christine Quinn, comptroller John Liu and Bill Thompson. (Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota has defended “stop and frisk,” which garners higher support among white New Yorkers when compared to minority New Yorkers.) But on Muslim spying, it’s a different story. De Blasio and Quinn have defended the surveillance program, as Levine noted. Thompson has stayed silent, while Liu, who is under investigation by the federal government because of his fundraising practices, has criticized the NYPD’s spying.

Quinn remains likely to win, though, and she has reportedly said she would keep on NYPD chief Kelly at the helm.

“On NYPD spying, nobody’s really that good,” said Sarsour. “People don’t want to touch Muslim spying.” Perhaps one reason behind the different positions are the poll numbers: a recent poll says that 53 percent of New Yorkers disapprove of “stop and frisk,” a number that is likely a result of the prominent organizing being done against the practice. But the majority of New Yorkers back the NYPD’s practice of surveilling Muslim communities.

But Sarsour also noted that there are 20 open City Council seats, making it a crucial year in New York City politics. Sarsour urged audience members to vote based on police accountability issues.

Sarsour also closed out her remarks by noting that there are reasons to be hopeful, even as Islamophobia continues to crop up in New York. She was heartened by the ongoing campaigns to place anti-hate advertisements in the subway as a way to counter Geller’s recent anti-Muslim subway ads.
About Alex Kane
Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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