Although the decision to end the surveillance unit is indeed a positive step, it’s worth mentioning that the existence of the decade-long unlawful program was kept a secret from the masses up until last year.
Once known as the Demographics unit, the program began in 2003 during the Bush administration. The police authorities sent detectives into Muslim neighborhoods to eavesdrop on conversations and record almost all the everyday tasks of members of the religious community.
There was not even the slightest hint from the NYPD or any kind of notification issued to the representatives of Muslims regarding the covert operations.
It was only after a series of Associated Press reports – gathered over a period of several years and released last September – that the public came to know about the extent of the police department’s religious profiling programs.
The level of discrimination reached its peak last year after the NYPD labeled entire mosques, Islamic groups, and hence the communities they serve, as terrorist enterprises, citing Islam as the only basis for suspicion.
Subsequently, multiple lawsuits were filed against the NYPD by outraged Muslims and civil liberties groups who claimed innocent people were being illegally targeted for undercover monitoring solely because of their religion.
The country’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), among several others, called on New York officials to enforce a law that currently states ‘every member of the police department or other law enforcement officer shall be prohibited from racial or ethnic profiling.’
Many claim the step signifies a change in policies after the appointment of Police Commissioner William Bratton and Democratic NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who, unlike his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, thinks surveillance should only be authorized to follow up on specific leads.
However, the fact remains the measure comes only after the AP revelations (followed by the National Security Agency leaks in June 2013) generated a huge amount of pressure on the authorities.
The program which was initiated in the wake of September 11, 2001 attacks caused quite a lot of damage to the Muslim community over the course of ten years.
It would take a lot more than just disbanding a secret service to eradicate the evils of racial and religious discrimination, especially Islamophobia from American society.