Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
Calling it a last resort, a group of Muslims from New Jersey are suing the NYPD over a surveillance program that targeted their homes and houses of worship in the Garden State. It is the first legal challenge against the NYPD for practices targeting the Muslim community.
The suit filed Wednesday in Newark by Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy group, wants a judge to find the surveillance program unconstitutional and seeks an end to those activities along with the purging of files maintained by the NYPD.
“What makes America great is that everyone is treated equally under the law. These plaintiffs are ordinary citizens going about their lives who law enforcement spied on simply because of their faith.” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates. “This lawsuit is the victims’ last resort for justice to prevail.”
The plaintiffs include a U.S. Army reservist, a small business owner who is also a Vietnam veteran, students and imams.
“I don't know where this is going to end,” said Army Specialist Farhaj Hassan, a plaintiff in the case, who was born in Chicago and grew up and lives in Central New Jersey.
“What's next? Cell phones? And who's next? What community is going to be next?”
The suit comes just two weeks after an investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General Jeffery Chiesa found no evidence that the NYPD's activities in the state violated the state's civil or criminal laws.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne pointed to the findings of that investigation and how it found “that NYPD activities in New Jersey were lawful, appropriate and in keeping with efforts there, in New York and around the world to prevent terrorists from returning here to kill more New Yorkers.”
The suit comes after a series of reports by the Associated Press documented surveillance in towns, mosques, businesses, and college campuses throughout the northeast, including New Jersey.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie described reports of NYPD surveillance targeting Muslims in Newark as “disturbing” — and many of those monitored told WNYC they were stunned to learn that the department had singled out their businesses, schools and mosques.
Hamidah Abdullah, 66, owns a Newark restaurant/ body shop that was among the dozens of Muslim-owned establishments listed as under surveillance in an NYPD document obtained by the Associated Press.
“I’d like to know if they had the nerve to come in and place something in the store…because we’re all interested in that,” she told WNYC earlier this year. “Now you’re talking about civil liberties, that is invading your privacy if they were in our establishment with surveillance cameras.”