What’s worse than law enforcement spying on an entire community of people based only on their religion? How about police trolling city jails and precinct lockups looking for members of that same community to do their dirty work for them. A division of the NYPD known as the Citywide Debriefing Team has been doing just that for years, preying on Muslims held in custody for petty charges to serve as the eyes and ears for police in places of worship, restaurants, and other places they frequent, The New York Times reported on May 10.
Coming just weeks after the NYPD announced it had disbanded its controversial undercover Muslim spying unit that produced no terrorism investigations, reports of police recruiting Muslims held in custody to become spies show the targeting of Americans because of their ethnicity or religion is hardly a thing of the past. Unlike other informant programs in which recruits are asked to provide information about criminal activity they know about, the NYPD team sought to recruit Muslims to become spies regardless of what they knew. It only mattered that they were Muslim.
According to the report, the Citywide Debriefing Team originally targeted vulnerable Muslim immigrants held in custody, trying to convince them to become police informants. Eventually this practice grew to include many Muslim-Americans picked up for minor offenses, such as traffic violations or shoplifting. In the first quarter of this year alone, 220 Muslims were interviewed by police. “The queries were not about the charges against them, but about where they went to mosque and what their prayer habits were. Eventually, the detectives got to the point: Would they work for the police, eavesdropping in Muslim cafes and restaurants, or in mosques?” The Times reported.
NYPD officers claim these interrogations are “non-coercive sessions,” but it’s not hard to imagine many immigrants detained by police “felt they had little choice but to cooperate.” There were also offers of reduced sentences for participation in the program. This is yet another example of the dangerous preemptive police activity that so often passes under the ubiquitous “counter-terrorism” moniker, but is little more than a fishing expedition that undermines our liberties and the relationships between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to be protecting.