We were greatly distressed to read “The Case for Ray Kelly,” a statement of support for the NYPD commissioner in The New York Jewish Week (Feb. 10) by the leadership of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The authors of this article, Alan S. Jaffe, Michael S. Miller and David M. Pollock, claim that Commissioner Kelly has made New York a safe place to live. We ask — safe for whom? Certainly not the Muslim community.
Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg order NYPD officers to spy on mosques, as well as Muslim restaurants, businesses and student meetings, and NYPD officials have used Islamophobic training materials and directives that foster suspicion and false stereotypes. Certainly not New York residents of color, whose rights the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices violate on a daily basis. Certainly not demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights. These practices target people based on their religion, race or political activities, without any evidence of wrongdoing.
As New Yorkers and as Jews we are deeply committed to ensuring the well-being, safety and civil rights of all the communities that are part of the city. We are deeply disturbed by the patterns of abuse that have become evident in the practices of the NYPD, the lack of any form of effective oversight or accountability, and the justifications of these abuses by the mayor. Among the most serious of these abuses are the broad surveillance of the Muslim community, the stop-and-frisk policies that annually affect hundreds of thousands of men of color, and the blatant physical attacks on Occupy Wall Street demonstrators exercising their right to protest. These abuses deprive the affected communities and individuals of human rights protected by the Constitution. They also threaten all of us, whether we are directly affected or not, because they threaten the core of a democratic society.
In their assessment of the NYPD’s policies, the JCRC leadership has trivialized the impact of constant surveillance upon the Muslim community. The authors ignore numerous Associated Press and other reports that describe the scope of the surveillance operation and its impact on Muslim communities in New York City and well beyond the city’s borders. They ignore as well that, as The New York Times has reported last month, “the Justice Department is beginning to review complaints about the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim and Arab communities to determine whether a full civil rights investigation is warranted.” We are reminded of the shameful “Red Scare” periods — times of government spying, informing, and infiltrating, all in order to “make us safe.”
The JCRC statement also does not acknowledge that Ray Kelly was a featured interviewee in “The Third Jihad,” a rabidly Islamophobic film — a fact he conveniently “forgot.” Under Kelly’s watch, according to files uncovered by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, the NYPD showed nearly 1,500 police officers during their training this anti-Islam propaganda film whose main narrative is that Muslims are trying to violently “infiltrate and dominate America.”
We are unwilling to live in a city in which Muslims and people of color are considered guilty until proven innocent. We do not believe that protecting the civil liberties and the dignity of all of our neighbors results in “complacency,” as the JCRC leadership insinuates. We fundamentally reject the idea that “our” safety requires sacrificing someone else’s civil liberties and the jettisoning of Constitutional rights.
The JCRC leaders claim that, under Kelly’s leadership, the NYPD has reached a fine place of “professionalism and respect; imagination and creativity.” Day in and day out, we see the NYPD’s utter disrespect for Muslim residents and for people of color, their lack of professionalism when beating down peaceful activists at Occupy Wall Street, and their lack of imagination as to what real safety in New York City could look like.
We are commanded to practice tikkun olam — to help repair the world. Today, that means speaking out against the Islamophobic and racist practices of the NYPD and its efforts to repress peaceful political dissent, and joining hundreds of city organizations in calling for Commissioner Kelly’s resignation.
Elly Bulkin and Marjorie Dove Kent (executive director, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice) are members of Jews Against Islamophobia, a coalition of JFREJ, Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No!