US Presidential Election Candidate Michael Bloomberg Defends Spying on Muslims After 9/11

Arab and Muslim civil rights groups have denounced Bloomberg’s latest support for the controversial surveillance scheme. 

Arab and Muslim civil rights groups have denounced Bloomberg’s latest support for the controversial surveillance scheme. 

Michael Bloomberg has defended the practice of surveillance on Muslim communities during his time as Mayor of New York.

The Democratic Presidential candidate stated in an interview with PBS Newshour last Thursday that using informants to monitor mosques in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was “the right thing to do”. 

He went on to say that New York’s Muslim community was the “natural place” for the police to monitor, because the attackers had all been Muslim.

“It’s okay to go where you think there might be information that would be useful in keeping us safe,” Bloomberg said.

He claimed that the New York Police Department’s spying on New York Muslims was part of a larger effort to keep America safe. “We’re supposed to do that,” he continued, and contended that the programme was legal.

He alleged that “there were imams who publicly at that time were urging the terrorism”. He then clarified that he did not believe that the surveillance meant that “all Muslims are terrorists or all terrorists are Muslim”.

The contentious policy targeted places of worship, restaurants and schools where Muslims frequented, and at one point included sending an undercover officer to accompany 18 Muslims students on a whitewater rafting trip. 

The NYPD was sued for its implementation of the policy, which eventually resulted in settlement. It is worth noting that the surveillance programme did not lead to any arrests.

Bloomberg’s refusal to renounce this spying policy is especially controversial in the light of his recent apology for his stop-and-frisk programme, which many have criticised for targeting black and Latino communities. 

“A massive civil rights breach”

Bloomberg has recently been attempting to attract Muslim voters. However, this statement is likely to anger American Muslims, who are critical of the historical surveillance of their communities.

Arab and Muslim civil rights groups have denounced Bloomberg’s latest support for the surveillance scheme. 

Muslim Advocates, the civil rights organisation which sued New York City over the scheme, was especially critical. It stated that the programme was a “massive civil rights breach that caused lasting harm to countless innocent American Muslims”.

The group’s executive director, Farhana Kherae, refuted the presidential candidate’s assertion that the programme was legal. She said it was “absolutely false that the courts sided with Bloomberg and the NYPD”, and cited a 2015 federal court of appeals opinion that was heavily critical of the NYPD’s conduct. She compared the programme to the civil rights violations suffered by minorities in America in recent history.

Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, was similarly scathing. She stated:

The NYPD literally mapped our communities across three states, causing systemic self-censoring, distrust of any interaction with the government, and untold harm to our communities.”

“One’s ethnicity or faith is not grounds for law enforcement scrutiny,” she added.

It remains to be seen how far Bloomberg’s presidential campaign can continue after such a shocking public display of civil rights breaches.