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Cory Booker Starts Investigation into NYPD Spying on Muslims

AP | 2/22/2012, 10:04 p.m.

"They just want to keep tabs on us," he said. "If they really wanted to understand, they'd come talk to us."

After the AP approached Booker, he said the mayor's office had launched an investigation.

"We're going to get to the bottom of this," he said.

Booker met with Islamic leaders while campaigning for mayor. Those interviewed by the AP said they wanted to believe he didn't authorize the spying but wanted to hear from him directly.

"I have to look in his eyes," Mohammed el-Sioufi said at his mosque. "I know him. I met him. He was here."

Ironically, because officers conducted the operation covertly, the reports contain mistakes that could have been easily corrected had the officers talked to store owners or imams. If police ever had to rely on the database during an unfolding terrorism emergency as they had planned, those errors would have hindered their efforts.

For instance, locals said several businesses identified as belonging to African-American Muslims actually were owned by Afghans or Pakistanis. El-Sioufi's mosque is listed as an African-American mosque, but he said the imam is from Egypt and the congregation is a roughly even mix of black converts and people of foreign ancestries.

"We're not trying to hide anything. We are out in the open," said Abdul A. Muhammad, the imam of the Masjid Ali Muslim mosque in Newark. "You want to come in? We have an open door policy."

By choosing instead to conduct such widespread surveillance, Mohammed el-Sioufi said, police send the message that the whole community is suspect.

"When you spy on someone, you are kind of accusing them. You are not accepting them for choosing Islam," Nagiba el-Sioufi said. "This doesn't say, 'This guy did something wrong.' This says, 'Everyone here is a Muslim.'"

"It makes you feel uncomfortable, like this is not your country," she added. "This is our country."