New York City has reached a settlement giving Muslims a say in police training and policies, and the city agreed to pay mosques and businesses who said they were illegally targeted for surveillance because of their religion, Muslim groups said Thursday.
The groups said they’ve been targeted for years following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, and they hope this settlement sends a message to the Trump administration to be careful about its own plans, such as the president’s travel ban.
The Muslim groups said roughly 20 mosques, two Muslim student organizations in New Jersey, 14 restaurants, two grade schools and 11 retail stores faced surveillance. Visitors and customers were photographed and undercover officers and informants infiltrated some of the organizations during a decade-long period.
The organizations sued, saying they were being singled out purely because of their religion. A federal district court ruled against them in 2014 but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in a year later and said their lawsuit could proceed, comparing the surveillance to targeting of the Japanese during World War II.
That led to Thursday’s settlement, in which the New York Police Department agreed not to engage in surveillance on the basis of religion or ethnicity, to meet with the plaintiffs to talk about their concerns, and to pay damages to mosques and businesses that suffered from the surveillance.
“The message to police departments from coast to coast is loud and clear: you cannot treat someone as a suspect based on their faith,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy group that represented the plaintiffs.
The city, while acknowledging the settlement, said it wasn’t admitting to any misconduct or violations of law.
“The resolution of this case affirms and enhances the NYPD’s commitment to conducting effective investigations to prevent crime and terrorism,” said James P. O’Neill, the police commissioner.
The city will pay $47,500 to businesses and mosques who suffered financially from the surveillance, as well as $25,000 to the individual plaintiffs. The city will also pay $950,000 in fees to the lawyers for the Muslim plaintiffs.
Under the agreement, the plaintiffs’ lawyers will also be able to review and make recommendations on policy policy and training guidelines surrounding religious and First Amendment activities.
Baher Azmy, the legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights which represented the plaintiffs, said the settlement should be a warning to President Trump.
“We are seeing a range of worrisome rhetoric from the White House that sort of doubles down on what animated this policy, which is a presumption that Muslims are suspicious,” he said.
“It is certainly our belief that the precedent set by the 3rd Circuit, we are hopeful, will be a reminder to other courts who are reviewing this administration’s conduct,” said Ms. Khera.
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