As promised during his campaign for New York City Mayor, the New York City Police Department has disbanded the unit that was spying on the Muslim community. Announcing the shut down yesterday, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said that he wants to heal the rifts between the Police Department and minority communities that have felt alienated as a result of policies pursued during the Bloomberg administration.
“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.
The Demographics Unit, which was renamed the Zone Assessment Unit in recent years, has been largely inactive since Mr. Bratton took over in January, the department’s chief spokesman, Stephen Davis, said. The unit’s detectives were recently reassigned, he said. [..]
Based on Mr. Davis’s remarks, the Police Department appears to be moving its policies closer to those of the F.B.I. Both agencies are allowed to use census data, public information and government data to create detailed maps of ethnic communities.
The F.B.I. is prohibited, however, from eavesdropping on and documenting innocuous conversations that would be protected by the First Amendment. F.B.I. lawyers in New York determined years ago that agents could not receive documents from the Demographics Unit without violating federal rules.
The units records, however, must be preserved due to lawsuits that have been brought against the department and the city in federal court. Last January, U.S. District Judge Charles Haight, Jr. documents turned over for discovery. City officials have admitted last year that the unit never produced any terrorism leads.
Mayor de Blasio said in a statement Tuesday that the closing of the unit was “a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.”
This a major step in that healing process but doubts still remain. Ms. Sarsour and New York Times reporter, Matt Apuzzo, discussed the unit’s shut down with Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman.
Transcript can be read here