The New York Police Department is not having a great publicity month. First they were deluged with criticism for responding to a string of sexual assaults in Brooklyn by stopping women on the street and telling them to dress less provocatively. Now they’re facing repeated charges of police brutality for arresting and pepper spraying Wall Street protesters.
Today, the AP reports that the NYPD is infiltrating many of the city’s colleges — including Brooklyn College, CUNY, Hunter College, and Queens College — using undercover agents to spy on their their Muslim Student Associations. Cops reportedly stalked Muslim students online, chatted with them in message boards, and sent agents to meetings — all because these students were going on paintball trips they deemed “militant”:
The documents show police were worried about “militant paintball trips” organized by Muslim students at Brooklyn College. The Justice Department has in the past accused would-be terrorists of using paintball games as a sort of paramilitary training. But current and former officials said there was no standard for what kind of paintball trips the NYPD considered militant.
An old website formerly used by the group shows photos from one of these trips to a paintball range in Jim Thorpe, Pa. An announcement for an upcoming trip gives strategy tips like separating players into offensive and defensive lines. It jokingly describes the “luxurious cheesebus” members will ride in and advises them to check “the back of your ‘Fruit of the Loom'” for equipment sizes.
Islamic Society members said it has been years since members did any organized paintball trips. They scoffed at the NYPD report, noting that the club has also organized basketball, football and cricket games in the past.
The NYPD apparently first turned its attention to Muslim college students after receiving sketchy information that a student wanted to be a “martyr.” But police never found this person and did not bring cases charging Muslim student groups with training terrorists.
According to the AP, schools that cooperated with the spying program could have broken a federal law barring schools from releasing students’ information without their consent. This puts them at risk of losing all their federal funding. The cops also apparently violated a 1992 memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and CUNY prohibiting the department from conducting undercover work on campus.
Gawker notes that in the past the NYPD has “imported tactics and personnel from the CIA to set up a massive surveillance operation that the CIA itself is legally barred from creating—casing Muslim cafes, pulling over Pakistani cab drivers for routine infractions and pressuring them to become informants, and even tailing moderate Muslim allies while they dine with the mayor.”