Muslims Speak Out Against Police Targeting
A girl shows her palm to display the message, "Peace!" at the "Today, I Am A Muslim, Too" rally in New York City, March 6, 2011. The rally was held in response to the upcoming Congressional hearings led by Peter King to protest the targeting of American Muslims and Arabs. (Photo: Reuters)

Muslim community leaders are openly teaching people how to identify police informants, and briefing them on their legal rights, reports the Associated Press.

Following a decade of intelligence operations by New York Police Department (NYPD) in which innocent Muslims were spied upon going about their daily lives, activists have started encouraging people not to cooperate with the authorities and to be aware of their rights when confronted by the police.

The outreach campaign follows an investigation by the Associated Press that revealed the NYPD and the CIA had dispatched plainclothes officers to infiltrate and spy on Muslim communities. They also identified and profiled restaurants serving Muslims and investigated numerous mosques - often with no evidence of wrongdoing. AP says the police "used this information to build ethnic databases on daily life inside Muslim neighbourhoods."

The NYPD also secretly followed some community members who had been publicly working with the authorities to combat terrorism in the city, leading to a sense of betrayal in a community that has felt itself hounded and ostracised since the 9/11 attacks.

Retired New York FBI agent Don Borelli said intelligence gathering is key to police work, not just in terrorism cases. But he said it can backfire when people feel their rights are being violated.

"When they do, these kinds of programs are actually counterproductive, because they undermine trust and drive a wedge between the community and police," said Borelli, now a security consultant with the Soufan Group.

New York Law School recently published a brochure warning people to be on their guard when confronted by someone who openly expresses anti-American sentiment or advocates violence, saying that they may be a police informant.

"Be very careful about involving the police," the brochure says. "If the individual is an informant, the police may not do anything ... If the individual is not an informant and you report them, the unintended consequences could be devastating."

New York Republican Representative Peter King said this kind of reaction from Muslims in new York is "disgraceful." King has previously called for increased pressure to be put on the Muslims community, and urged the U.S. to kick out Iranian officials at the UN because most of them are "spies."

Earlier this year, Muslims in new York rallied in Times Square at a demonstration entitled "Today I am a Muslim Too" to protest against Congressional hearings on radicalisation in the Muslim community led by Peter King. They argued that the hearings threatened to unfarily single out one religious group.