The “war on terror is over,” Barack Obama announced in May 2013. It may have taken a while for the message to percolate down to New York City, site of the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil in the history of the nation, but the New York Police Department finally got the word.
According to the New York Times, the Demographics Unit (renamed the Zone Assessment Unit in recent years) has been scrapped and the “plainclothes detectives” who were sent “into Muslim neighborhoods to eavesdrop on conversations and built detailed files on where people ate, prayed and shopped” have been reassigned.
The decision by the nation’s largest police force to shutter the controversial surveillance program represents the first sign that William J. Bratton, the department’s new commissioner, is backing away from some of the post-9/11 intelligence-gathering practices of his predecessor. The Police Department’s tactics, which are the subject of two federal lawsuits, drew criticism from civil rights groups and a senior official with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who said they harmed national security by sowing mistrust for law enforcement in Muslim communities.
To many Muslims, the squad … was a sign that the police viewed their every action with suspicion. The police mapped communities inside and outside the city, logging where customers in traditional Islamic clothes ate meals and documenting their lunch-counter conversations.
“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.”
Mission accomplished? Not necessarily, says Stephen Davis, the department’s chief spokesman:
Understanding certain local demographics can be a useful factor when assessing the threat information that comes into New York City virtually on a daily basis. In the future, we will gather that information, if necessary, through direct contact between the police precincts and the representatives of the communities they serve.
What could be bad? If police have an inkling that something sinister is in the works, all they need do is reach out to “representatives of the communities,” who can affirm or allay their concerns.
Besides, it’s not as though New York has had terrorist threats since 2001 — at least not if you discount the 16 known plots against the Big Apple that have occurred in the intervening years. Every single attempt, moreover, has been the work of Islamofascists.
But if you need proof that the Muslim spy unit is superfluous, you have it in the words of New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who 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.”
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