Recap: NYPD: The Community Under a Microscope

The event was streamed live online via ADC-TV. Watch a full recording of the discussion














Washington, DC I I March 30, 2012 -- As part of the ongoing Arabesque Lecture Series, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) hosted an event titled NYPD: The Community under a Microscope. This was the sixth lecture in the 2011-2012 series. 

ADC was joined by three experts, including Lynne Bernabei a founding partner at the Law Firm of Bernabei & Wachtel; Sameera Hafiz, Policy Director at the Rights Working Group (RWG); and Ginger McCall, Director of EPIC’s Open Government Program and IPIOP Program. ADC Legal Director, Abed Ayoub, moderated the discussion. 

The evening’s discussions focused on a topic of great importance that has received ever-increasing attention: the NYPD’s program of spying on Muslims, the legality of these actions, and the impact of this program on the Arab-American community. Each panelist offered insight on the events from the perspective of their own experiences and a lively question and answer session followed. 

The evening began with a discussion on the possible legal challenges that could be brought in response to the actions carried out by the NYPD.

Bernabei gave an analysis of the specific types of possible claims, and the effectiveness of these claims. Using her expertise, she proffered the explanation that most claims regarding these actions by the NYPD would be brought under First and Fourth Amendment claims as well as the right to privacy. With respect to First Amendment claims, she opined that, interestingly, jurisdiction and standing have not been an issue for courts with these actions in terms of claimants being able to show religion has been affected. Bernabei remarked that these cases must be brought, but that in reality, the first phase of cases is unlikely to be successful. Her take on the matter was that in order for these cases to be brought and in order to move forward, the issue would need to be rephrased into inquiring into “what is legitimate law enforcement activity?”

She explained that there is a lack of political will to restrain law enforcement, and that when conditions are as such, the agencies will do whatever they can get away with. Bernabei remarked that the situation would “be like starting over again from the 1960s” with respect to renewing these movements to bring about political will to keep accountability in the system.

More importantly, she explained that the situation needs to be looked at in terms of the fact that the police are in effect surveilling everyone, that the movement needs to reflect the fact that it could be anyone that could be surveilled under these types of practices. Bernabei spoke about the federal mandate involved and opined that at times, it is mandates like this that force local police into corruption by requiring their participation.

She closed her comments and questions by comparing this debate to the torture debate with respect to its effectiveness in terms of identifying “terrorists” or threats to national security, remarking that those people law enforcement seeks to find to prevent terrorism and threats to national security are found by traditional law enforcement means, programs like this, much like torture, rarely ever lead to the identification of people who are dangers to the United States. 

Hafiz began her discussion by explaining RWG and its work in striving to restore the American commitment to protect civil liberties and human rights for all in the United States. She gave the audience insight into the composition of RWG as a coalition of civil liberties, human and civil rights, national security, and immigrant rights organizations that work together to restore due process and protect rights. Hafiz described the issues on the ground as a reflection of her work with the issues and the types of things being done to combat the unsavory surveillance program in which the NYPD has undertaken to participate.

She spoke about the End Racial Profiling Act, its importance and the historical background for the act, its support and current state in the US Houses of Congress. Hafiz made very important remarks on the fact that these programs, especially the NYPD surveillance program, have had many negative effects, primarily the breaking down trust between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to serve.

She explained that these effects go far beyond the reach of issues dealing with counterterrorism and reach into areas of access to public service and even into the reporting of violence and domestic crimes. Further, she commented on the nature of the relationship of the NYPD to federal agencies such as the FBI and their possible roles in these types of programs.

With respect to the effectiveness of such techniques, Hafiz stressed that studies have shown evidence based policing as overwhelmingly the best way to solve cases, whereas profiling clearly is not