Muslims want to review deal preventing illegal surveillance

AP News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2016 7:22 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Members of the Muslim community asked Tuesday for more time to digest an agreement aimed at preventing illegal surveillance by the New York Police Department, saying they want to use the Ramadan season starting in early June to spread word among people still traumatized by police surveillance conducted since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight seemed receptive to delaying until mid-summer a decision on whether to approve the latest version of restrictions on surveillance agreed to by lawyers for plaintiffs in two lawsuits and the city.

He told one person who spoke at the hearing that he wants feedback from the community about whether the agreement is fair and reasonable if he decides to lengthen a one-month period to consider public input.

He asked lawyers to tell him Wednesday their reactions to numerous Muslim residents and others who said most Muslims in the city know little or nothing about the latest rules to emerge from a 1971 lawsuit that challenged surveillance of war protesters in the 1960s and '70s. A 1980s consent decree was relaxed after the Sept. 11 terror attacks to help police fight terrorism.

The deal also grew from a 2013 lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court by mosques, a charity and community leaders alleging that the department was discriminating against Muslims.

Under the agreement, investigations based on race, religion or ethnicity would be banned. Other provisions require the department to use the least intrusive investigative techniques possible. It sets time limits for ending investigations that fail to turn up threats.

A civilian representative appointed by the mayor, would attend monthly meetings of police officials and NYPD lawyers who review the investigations and would have authority to report suspected violations of the agreement to City Hall or a federal judge.

Barbara Handschu, lead plaintiff in the 45-year-old lawsuit, spoke favorably of the agreement Tuesday. She said outside court she favors extending the time to get public feedback "so the community doesn't feel like this is a settlement that's being forced down on them." The Handschu guidelines spelling out how New York City can conduct surveillance still carry her name.

New guideline restrictions were announced in January after The Associated Press revealed that New York City police spied on Muslims, infiltrated student groups and sent informants to mosques.

Handschu, 73, said she was moved by speakers Tuesday, including college students who described fears among young Muslims that they are being watched.

"I feel for them," said Handschu, who now is a divorce lawyer.

Hossam Gamea, 23, a student at Hunter College, told the judge he believed the agreement was a good start, particularly because "Muslims need the protection more than anyone else with the rise of Islamaphobia."

He said some Muslims on campus were traumatized by the surveillance, leading them to suspect other Muslims might be informants and to carefully watch their language.

"They fear they'll be implicated for something they say," Gamea said.