In the wake of the New York City terror attack that left eight dead and 11 seriously injured, the previous conduct of Mayor Bill de Blasio is being called into question.
The mayor took a soft stance on the Muslim community in recent years, and it seems to have backfired. Specifically, the man who said at a protest earlier this year “Today I am a Muslim” ended a police surveillance program of the mosque attended by the terrorist behind the New York City attack.
Bill de Blasio has taken an appeasement approach with the city’s Muslim community. As the memory of the September 11 attacks fades, de Blasio has turned his focus to fighting Islamophobia rather than fighting radical extremists in the Muslim community.
Part of this shift includes undoing many of the law enforcement tactics that were put in place by previous mayors. One of those tactics, a covert surveillance program of New York City-area mosques, is now back in the spotlight.
In 2014, de Blasio ended the surveillance program, which also included undercover personnel inside each mosque to find potential radicals. One of those mosques was the Masjid Omar Mosque in nearby Paterson, New Jersey. It is around the corner from the apartment of Sayfullo Saipov, the terrorist behind the Halloween attack. Witnesses say Saipov often attended, but it is not clear if he was radicalized there.
The Paterson mosque that some neighbors said the suspect in Tuesday’s deadly terror attack in New York City attended was among several in New Jersey that the New York Police Department targeted as part of a broad surveillance program that was intended to identify “budding terrorist conspiracies.”
The Masjid Omar Mosque is on Getty Avenue, around the corner from the apartment where the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, lived with his family. Wednesday morning, the mosque was within the three-block section that was blocked off because of the investigation of the apartment building, but law enforcement sources said the mosque itself is not under investigation.
Neighbors told The Record and NorthJersey.com that Saipov worshiped there, but mosque members disputed that Wednesday morning.
The New York Police Department has abandoned a secretive program that dispatched plainclothes detectives into Muslim neighborhoods to eavesdrop on conversations and built detailed files on where people ate, prayed and shopped, the department said.
The decision by the nation’s largest police force to shutter the controversial surveillance program represents the first sign that William J. Bratton, the department’s new commissioner, is backing away from some of the post-9/11 intelligence-gathering practices of his predecessor. The Police Department’s tactics, which are the subject of two federal lawsuits, drew criticism from civil rights groups and a senior official with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who said they harmed national security by sowing mistrust for law enforcement in Muslim communities.
“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” said Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York. “Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the cafe where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”
Ms. Sarsour was one of several advocates who met last Wednesday with Mr. Bratton and some of his senior staff members at Police Headquarters. She and others in attendance said the department’s new intelligence chief, John Miller, told them that the police did not need to work covertly to find out where Muslims gather and indicated the department was shutting the unit down.
As a candidate, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was “deeply troubled” by the tactic of surveilling mosques.
Here is video of de Blasio proclaiming “I am a Muslim too” at a protest in support of the Muslim community.
It is not clear if continued surveillance of the mosque would have alerted police to Saipov. But they were never given the chance for that to happen.
What do you think of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s actions on the NYPD’s surveillance program? Let us know in the comments, and in addition, share this on social media.