All six Municipal Council members present at their March 21 meeting unanimously approved an ordinance that call for an investigation of those involved with the New York Police Department's covert surveillance of the city's Muslim community.
The ordinance, which passed at 7:50 p.m. before a packed council chamber gallery main floor audience of 250, calls for "an investigation of any and all government and law enforcement personnel with regard to the intelligence gathering activities of the NYPD and the Newark Police Department throughout the Muslim community."
The measure, authored and sponsored by Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif, was in response to the 2007 surveillance of various masjids, schools and businesses owned and/or operated by Muslims or frequented by Muslims. Controversy erupted in Newark when the Associated Press received and published a 60-page top secret NYPD intelligence report on their surveillance observations and findings.
The NYPD surveillance in Newark was conducted as part of that law enforcement agency's intelligence gathering throughout the tri-state New York metropolitan region five years ago. Such activities included similar observations in Paterson and following e-mail messages among Islamic student associations in Rutgers and Yale universities. "Big Apple" police went as far as sending an undercover officer along an Islamic student group's whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York.
"New York City's Finest" intelligence units have been known for decades to go beyond the Five Boroughs on their own espionage assignments. NYPD spies, particularly since Sept. 11, have gone to Mumbai, London, Bali, Tel Aviv and Madrid to assist their colleagues in their post-terrorist attack investigations.
Public and Law enforcement officials west of the Hudson River have been asking each other who knew about NYPD's clandestine presence in Newark when - and whether they granted permission.
Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio (said that, while as a deputy director to predecessor Gerry McCarthy, NPD officers served as tour guides, "taking them to places they were interested in." McCarthy, now Chicago Police Commissioner, has not responded except to say that he "wouldn't do such a thing" in the Windy City.
Gov. Christopher Christie, who was U.S. Department of Justice attorney here in 2007, said that he could not recall if NYPD's being in Newark was permitted. State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) said he had permitted their surveillance while he was Acting Governor and a West Orange resident that year.
Mayor Corey A. Booker meanwhile expressed some anger that he was not told of NYPD's spying in Newark. Sharif, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr., South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador and at-large council members Mildred Crump and Luis Quintana expressed their thoughts on the matter at their March 21 meeting.
"I'm a Christian but I stand with my Muslin brothers and sisters," said Quintana. "If it's Muslims who are spied upon just because of their religion, which group will be next?"
Quintana and the other council members present noted that the NYPD had no direct basis for conducting their intelligence gathering. No one speaking for the 38,000-person police department has given any indication of a person or a group of people making a threat.
About half of the gallery applauded when all six council members approved the call for investigation. Many of the applauding group was made up of people who wore Islamic dress.
When the council meeting reached 7:25 p.m., most of the group left en masse to the first floor rotunda. The 125, led by an Imam, conducted evening prayers before returning to the chamber at 7:38 p.m.
Several of the group registered in advance to speak before Newark's elders in the later public hearing. Many of those speakers, while thanking the council for their stand, told of businesses patronage and masjid attendance declining since the news broke last month.
"As an American History professor at Essex County College, I get to talk with my students about current events," said Michael N. Nash to "Local Talk" afterward. "I've noticed that some students would be critical of their peers because of their being Muslim. I know that I've been looking in my rear view mirror more often."
Nash has specialized in tracing the history of Muslims in America. He has recently authored a book on Muslims' contributions in Newark and is frequently called to lecture on the subject.
"The Muslim presence in Newark goes back a century to Noble Drew Ali and the Moorish Science Temple," said Nash. "I try to weave the Muslim-American story in my lesson plans."
Amiana Thari, president of the Muslim Community Local Coalition, said that he was among the organizers who brought their colleagues to the council chamber gallery.
"The MCLC was formed as the result of the NYPD spying case," said Thari. "The Newark council's passing of this resolution is the latest step forward. Similar resolutions that I've forwarded to local councils were passed by Irvington, West Orange and Maplewood."
Most of those who have stayed for the council's vote and public speakers left for the night midway through the public hearing of citizens by 8:10 p.m. Another gallery member, who was not on the agenda's list of speakers, walked up to the floor podium and, after a moment, turned towards the departing throng.
"Hey," said the pretending speaker, "You're interfering with my right to speak."