The New York Police Department (NYPD) has labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, which allows the NYPD broad surveillance powers. According to Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the AP, the NYPD has done “at least a dozen ‘terrorism enterprise investigations’” on New York mosques, which are intended to look into terrorist cells. The only reason these mosques are "suspicious" is that they are centers of the Islamic community. Muslims are presumed to be potential terrorists, while a similar program on churches and synagogues would be unthinkable.
One tactic used by the NYPD, which was allowed by the terrorist designation, is to send undercover agents into mosques, and even get them installed as board members at certain mosques. These tactics were never used by the FBI because they are so invasive, but the NYPD has been surveilling mosques regularly using highly invasive tactics since 9/11. Undercover agents also record sermons and spy on imams.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly went on Morning Joe to defend the program as a method to keep New Yorkers safe:
“Our sin is to have the temerity, the chutzpah to go into the federal government’s territory of counterterrorism and try to protect this city by supplementing what the federal government has done.”
One point that undercuts Commissioner Kelly: not a single mosque or Islamic organization has been charged with any terrorism related charges. Kelly can say "we're just keeping everyone safe" all he wants, but spying on mosques is not keeping anyone safe. If anything, it alienates the Islamic community, and makes them less likely to work with the police.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined two other groups to file a lawsuit against the NYPD for discriminatory practices. The ACLU argues that the program stigmatizes Muslims in a harmful, unfair way:
“Through this program, the NYPD has singled out Muslim institutions and individuals for pervasive surveillance that is not visited upon the public at large or upon institutions or individuals belonging to any other religious faith. As a result, the NYPD has imposed an unwarranted badge of suspicion and stigma on law-abiding Muslim New Yorkers.”
The NYPD is still living in the trauma of the post 9/11 world. Their program of labeling mosques as terrorist organizations is not just offensive, it’s inefficient and creates enemies out of potential allies. There are smarter and more humane ways to fight terrorism, and the “we’re just trying to keep you safe” excuse needs to stop being used as a catch-all for excusing anything nominally related to counterterrorism.