Dozens of people gathered at Foley Square Friday to protest against the NYPD, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg for allegedly systematically spying on New York Muslims after the September 11 attacks.
Today’s rally was the first organized protest since the Associated Press published its investigations of the infiltration program last August. The story alleged that a CIA official, David Cohen, organized a secret police squad that infiltrated the city’s Muslim communities. The police department denied the program’s existence.
Various aspects of Muslims life were monitored by the undercover unit, which allegedly targeted Muslims who Americanized their names and tracked the Internet activity of Muslim student organizations.
Today, many of the protestors at Foley Square made the direct connection between the NYPD infiltration program and the messages of Occupy Wall Street.
“We support Occupy Wall Street. We support the [protest against] illegal surveillance of the Muslim community and really the entire community at large,” says Arasalan Ghelieh. “These issues are completely intertwined and we’re proud to be part of all of them.”
Ghelieh, 28, is a New York lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild, an organization that supports both the Occupy Wall Street and Muslim protests.
“The Muslim community is part of the 99%. The Muslim community has for years dealt with the same issues that the occupiers are now dealing with, including increased police presence and the illegal surveillance,” Ghelieh adds.
In Friday’s rally, called nearly 3 months after the revelations, Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid led the crowd in afternoon prayers. Non-Muslim protestors stood around holding signs of support for Muslim equality. Other signs demanded the end of ethnic and religious profiling from the NYPD and CIA.
Perhaps no one at the rally better understood the importance of protecting Muslim civil rights than Gigi Ibrahim. Ibrahim, 25, is also known as @Gsquare86, a social media identity that brought her international attention because of her activist role in the Egyptian revolution and Arab Spring.
Ibrahim had been invited to New York City as a guest speaker at forums held at Amnesty International and Columbia University yesterday. She said she heard about the rally from a friend and wanted to attend.
“I’m really proud about the [rally’s] turnout. It’s really great, even if it’s small in the eyes of the people. But this will gain momentum. With what’s happening around it with the Occupy Wall Street movement and what’s happening in the world, we can definitely expect the pressure from below.”
Ibrahim says that she hopes today’s protestors can learn from what happened in Arab Spring and realize that ordinary citizens have the power to hold authority figures accountable for their actions.
“The people have every right and actually the responsibility to act and change the status quo. We’ve seen it happen all over the world that this is becoming the model for change. This is how you bring about change.”
Like the Arab Spring and the two-month-old Occupy Wall Street protests, there was a significant youth presence at the Foley Square rally, which took place just steps away from the now empty Zucotti Park.
Bay Ridge resident Dania Darwish also believes that there is a strong connection between the two protests. “I’m here today in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and also with Muslim coalitions,” the 19-year-old student says.
Like many women at the protest, she had a hijab tightly wrapped around her hair, probably protecting her from the blistery winds.
“I’m here because of the spying on Muslims, particularly Brooklyn College. I’m a graduate of Brooklyn College and I don’t think we ever did anything suspicious or anything like that,” says Aziza Al-Taheri, 21, another resident of Bay Ridge, which has one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in the city.
Al-Taheri believes that the college Muslim organizations she belonged to sought to bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims in Brooklyn.
“This spying doesn’t do any good at all. It just makes us feel like we don’t belong in a way. But we want them to know that we are a part of this country,” Al-Taheri says with a strong Brooklyn accent.