Protesting the NYPD spies
NEW YORK--Approximately 100 protesters confronted NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly outside an event for alumni of the Fordham Law School on March 3 to protest the NYPD's assault on Muslims, communities of color and peaceful protesters.
The demonstration, organized by the Fordham Muslim Law Students Association, called for the resignation of Kelly after revelations by Associated Press journalists of extensive NYPD surveillance of Muslim communities and student groups across the Northeast, as well as recent attacks on communities of color and Occupy Wall Street.
[W]e demand the resignation of NYPD Commissioner Kelly who unabashedly violates the civil liberties of Muslim New Yorkers and students, through the illegal practice of "Stop & Frisk" largely on minority communities, and by the violent suppression of "Occupy Wall Street."
Specifically, protesters denounced Fordham Law School's invitation to Kelly to speak to alumni at an event at the posh Cipriani Wall Street, just blocks from where New York police brutalized activists and forcibly evicted the Occupy Wall Street encampment just a few months ago. The demonstrators also demanded Fordham release a statement "which affirms its commitment to the equality of all of its students and opposes the NYPD's racist policies."
Two days before the protest was scheduled to take place, Fordham issued a mealy-mouthed statement that paid lip service to supporting civil liberties and opposing discrimination, but did not clearly condemn NYPD spying or rescind the invitation to Kelly.
While Fordham officials claimed they are "deeply concerned about, the chilling effect such surveillance could have on academic freedom, and on freedom of speech and association," they also accepted the logic that spying on Muslims is an attempt to keep people safe, rather than an example of religious and racial profiling, harassment and intimidation.
Fordham stated that the university "acknowledges the enormous responsibility placed in the hands of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to safeguard the city and all of its citizens, while at the same time preserving civil liberties. We trust that the mayor and commissioner understand the importance of preserving those liberties, especially in times of heightened danger."
This "trust" comes despite revelations that the NYPD played the Islamophobic film The Third Jihad, which Kelly himself appears in, for 1,500 officers, and then lied to the press when questioned about it.
While Fordham went on to claim that its decision to invite Kelly "should not be construed as a university endorsement of his policies," Kelly used the forum provided by Fordham to defend the very policies of profiling and surveillance of Muslims for which he was denounced by protesters in front of an audience of lawyers, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
UNDETERRED BY Fordham's statement, members of the Fordham Muslim Law Students Association went ahead with their protest outside the venue at 55 Wall Street. They were joined by activists from Independent Viewpoints, Occupy Wall Street, the International Socialist Organization and opponents of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policies, among others.
Protesters initially gathered on the sidewalk in front of the venue, but they were threatened with arrest by officers, who claimed the sidewalk was "frozen," unless they moved across the street.
According to Mohammad Ali Naquvi of Independent Viewpoints:
Legally, and I'm a lawyer, we're allowed to stand on a sidewalk as long as we don't block passageway or an entrance...We don't have to stand in a pen...but they were making up rules, saying the sidewalk is "frozen." "Frozen" is not a legal term. I tried to push him on it...I said, you know, "frozen" means that water solidifies at 0 degrees...I don't know the legal term "frozen" in any way. He didn't have a response, [and] he threatened us with arrest.
Chants included "Kelly spies, Bloomberg lies," and protesters held signs with slogans such as "NYPD is racist" and "NYPD, CIA, hands off our people," while well-dressed Fordham alumni arrived for the event.
Sara Bokhari of Brooklyn, a Muslim woman active in Occupy Wall Street, drew attention to the need for unity among those targeted by the NYPD:
I'm out here protesting these racist policies that the NYPD has been using for generations...It didn't just start with Muslims; it didn't start after 9/11. They've been profiling and infiltrating our brothers and sisters in Harlem and the Bronx, all over...It doesn't make our city safer, and we need to stand up and fight back against it."
Asked about the potential to unite struggles against police brutality and profiling of Blacks and Latinos with the fight against anti-Muslim spying, Bokhari said, "I think there is a ton of potential...We're all people who are being oppressed by these same policies, and we need to stand together in solidarity."
Protesters used the "peoples' mic," where one person speaks and the crowd repeats and amplifies their words, to address Kelly and those who came to hear him speak. One woman used the mic to say:
In the last several months, the Associated Press has blown the cover of the NYPD. The AP has confirmed what Muslim communities have known for years: the NYPD has been spying on our communities, just because we're Muslim. They have been spying on our mosques...on the businesses we go to and own...and the NYPD has been spying on our students.
Ray Kelly: we are a growing chorus of people...we are students and professors, we are workers, we are Muslims, and we are here together to say "No more"!