A federal judge has ruled against a group of eight Muslim New Jersey residents who filed a lawsuit accusing the NYPD of discrimination and violating their Constitutional rights through the department's counter-terrorism surveillance program. The NYPD's investigation of Muslims came to light through a series of investigative reports from the Associated Press, which exposed the NYPD's "Demographics Unit" and its widespread surveillance in neighborhoods with significant Muslim populations. Yesterday's ruling, by United States District Court in Newark, Judge William J. Martini, faulted the AP for the series:
"Nowhere in the complaint do the plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of documents by The Associated Press," Martini wrote. "This confirms that plaintiffs’ alleged injuries flow from The Associated Press’ unauthorized disclosure of the documents... The Associated Press covertly obtained the materials and published them without authorization. Thus the injury, if any existed, is not fairly traceable to the city [of New York]."
Documents obtained by the AP revealed that in the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NYPD was conducting broad surveillance of any and all New Jersey Muslims. The lawsuit cited NYPD documents showing that undercover officers "lurked outside a mosque in Paterson, New Jersey" to "record license plates and capture video and photographic record of those in attendance." Records cited in the lawsuit also showed that the NYPD eavesdropped at Muslim owned grocery stores, noting the ethnicity and outfits patrons and workers wore.
The lawsuit alleged that the NYPD "has spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools, and two Muslim Student Associations in New Jersey. This monitoring has included video surveillance, photographing, community mapping, and infiltration."
But Judge Martini's decision [pdf] found that the plaintiffs "have not alleged facts from which it can can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion. The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies... The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself... The motive for the program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but to find Muslim terrorists hiding among the ordinary, law-abiding Muslims."
Glenn Katon, legal director of Muslim Advocates, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, said in a statement, "The fight is not over by any means. The surveillance program violates the Constitution, and we are confident that this decision will not hold up to review upon appeal. The NYPD’s blatantly discriminatory program has hurt the lives of many innocent Americans—moms who fear sending their children to school, students who simply want to pray, and Muslim-owned businesses that have lost customers."
A similar lawsuit is pending in federal court in Brooklyn.