As part of its widespread surveillance of Muslims and Arabs, the New York Police Department has classified entire mosques as terror cells to monitor them, paid informants to “bait” Muslims into crimes, and spied on Muslim student associations at area universities. Those are only part of the program that has been criticized by politicians on both sides of the aisle and the FBI, produced no actual terrorism leads, and bred political and religious suppression of Muslims around the New York City area.
Now, it seems the NYPD may have stooped even lower, using area sports leagues it promoted as a gateway to spy on Arab, Muslim, and South Asian families, as The Nation’s Dave Zirin reported Tuesday:
In 2009, the Arab American Association of New York sponsored the Brooklyn United, a team in the New York Police Department’s youth soccer league. “We were trying to engage with law enforcement, get kids off the street and it was kind of putting out our hand to the NYPD,” said the organization’s Executive Director Linda Sarsour. That first year, the Brooklyn United won the tournament trophy and even posed for the above photo with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. But by 2011, the AAANY withdrew their sponsorship after learning that the league was also being used as a way to monitor the Arab, Muslim and South Asian players and their families. [...]
“What we know is that they did set up soccer and cricket leagues from youth to adults,” said Apuzzo. “We also know that they encouraged their detectives to join the adult cricket and soccer leagues. I don’t know if we can say they created the leagues for the express purpose of surveillance as opposed to outreach. But we do know from their own documents that they do see these sports leagues as an opportunity to keep tabs on conversations. Either way, we certainly can say that any effort at actual legitimate community outreach can be undermined by the surveillance aspect because it makes people suspicious of motives.”
The NYPD hasn’t commented on the matter, so there’s no concrete evidence yet that the cricket and soccer leagues were being used to monitor Muslim and Arab communities. But given the NYPD’s history, it isn’t hard to imagine the department taking such actions, and as Zirin notes, just the belief that they are being subjected to surveillance can have harmful consequences for both individuals and communities.
None of the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims and South Asians is acceptable, particularly since it hasn’t been effective in producing leads even as Mayor Michael Bloomberg defends the programs. But to use sports, something that should bring together and enhance communities, particularly those as diverse as New York City, is even worse. As my colleague Nicole Flatow has written, recent studies have shown that “this systematic surveillance has had a severe chilling effect on Muslims’ speech, religious activity, and community life,” making them suspicious of participating in basic community involvement and exercising their most basic American rights. Tomorrow is the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that hit New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, but this is a reminder that the fear that has gripped many parts of this country since that day — the fear that has inspired our society to take actions that prevent other Americans from participating in such basic community activities as playing sports with each other — isn’t making us safer or better or more American. Instead, it’s undermining everything we supposedly stand for.