New York City
Lynne Stewart, the fighting activist attorney who gained fame with her 2005 conviction for "providing material support" to terrorism, died March 7 at her home in Brooklyn. She was 77, and had been granted a "compassionate release" from federal prison in January 2014 after she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The obituary in the New York Times says she was convicted of "helping smuggle messages" from her imprisoned client Omar Abdel Rahman "to his violent followers in Egypt." It doesn't mention that the "messages" were essentially press releases, barred by stringent "Special Administrative Measures" imposed by the Justice Department, which Stewart rejected as illegitimate. Her prison term, initially set at 28 months, was later increased to 10 years after an appeals court ordered the trial judge to consider a longer term. In a statement after her release, her longtime partner Ralph Poynter said: "The enduring global movement for social justice has persevered—ever inspired by Lynne Stewart's steadfast refusal to bend the knee, submit to coercion or official duplicity."
The New York Police Department (NYPD) reached a new settlement on March 6 over its surveillance of Muslims after a federal judge rejected an earlier deal in October. The new settlement would create greater oversight of the NYPD's intelligence-gathering programs by a civilian representative. In the original rejection of the case, the judge stated that the agreement did not ensure that the NYPD would be limited in how it could monitor political and religious activity. Zachary Carter, head of New York City's law department, said that the new settlement agreement addresses the judge's previous concerns.
A federal judge has rejected (PDF) the New York Police Department's proposed settlement of a lawsuit accusing the department of improperly monitoring the city's Muslim community. Following the September 11 attacks, the NYPD has reportedly used undercover cops to monitor Muslim neighborhoods, organizations and mosques in the name of national security. In January, a settlement was reached, calling for a stricter modification of the police surveillance "Handschu" guidelines (PDF) and a civilian representative installed for five years to ensure that the NYPD complies. The NYPD declined to accept all proposed modifications yet acquiesced to the establishment of a civilian representative. Nevertheless, US District Judge Charles Haight rejected the proposed settlement, stating that it does not sufficiently protect the constitutional rights of Muslim citizens. Haight suggested that the NYPD further clarify the representative's role, and take additional measures to ensure guideline compliance such as requiring reporting to the court. While expressing disappointment in the ruling, the New York City law department stated its intention to address the judge's concerns.
Ahmad Rahami, the suspect in last week's bombings in New York and New Jersey, was charged (PDF) in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York Sept. 20. The charges include: Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Bombing a Place of Public Use, Destruction of Property by Means of Fire or Explosive, and Use of a Destructive Device During and in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence. Rahami is also facing similar charges (PDF) in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey. The Sept. 17 bombings injured 29 in New York; no one was injured in the New Jersey attack. Rahami was arrested two days later after sustaining injuries during a shootout with police in in Linden, NJ. The suspect also faces charges of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer stemming from the shootout.
On the evening of Sept. 7, some 30 New York City activists gathered outside the premises of the Brooklyn Commons on Atlantic Ave. to protest the appearance there of the latest 9-11 conspiracy guru, Christopher Bollyn—who happens to be even more overtly anti-Semitic and tainted by neo-Nazi connections than most 9-11 conspiracy gurus. Many carried signs reading "Another Jewish anti-Zionist against anti-Semitism" and "No platform for bigotry." The door was guarded by a taciturn muscle-man who spent most of the two hours of the event menacingly punching the air with an exercise hand-grip, only stopping to open the door for approved attendees. Some protesters did manage to infiltrate the event, and were roughly ejected. There were a few brief scuffles outside as well; Brooklyn Commons management called the police, and one protester was arrested. Photos are online at Storify.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) came to a settlement agreement on Jan. 7 in two civil rights lawsuits accusing the NYPD of wrongfully monitoring Muslims after the 9-11 attacks. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in October revived the civil rights lawsuit filed by a coalition of Muslim groups that accused the NYPD of conducting unjustified surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. The police department has agreed to reinstate a civilian attorney to a panel that will ensure that no first amendment rights are violated during all surveillance. The appointee will be an outside observer with no connection to the police department and appointed by the mayor. The department has also agreed to place a time limit on investigations and to uphold the existing NYPD policy that it is illegal to profile based upon religious activity. The NYPD has not acknowledged improper monitoring of Muslims and has made no admission of guilt within the settlement. The department states that the changes enforce already guiding principles in use.
On the evening of Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, activists gathered at New York City's Columbus Circle, overlooked by the Trump International Hotel, for a rally in solidarity with Iraqi and Syrian refugees—under the slogan "Human Rights TRUMP Oppression." Favored chants included "Say it loud, say it clear; Refugees are welcome here!" and "Dump Trump!"—an exhortation aimed at the GOP over the candidate's call for banning all Muslims from entering the US, but the latest in his relentless barrage of xenophobic bluster. Featured speakers included representatives of the Arab American Association of New York, MENA Solidarity Network, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Black Lives Matter—and a group of Syrian Americans, accompanied by a refugee recently arrived from war-torn Homs, whose comments in Arabic were translated. This group spoke against a backdrop of Syria's rebel flag and led chants of "Assad, ISIS, they're the same; Only difference is the name!"
A lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department's surveillance of Muslims can proceed, the Third Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled Oct. 13, opening the way for a trial on the constitutionality of spying on New Jersey mosques, schools and businesses. Likening the surveillance program to the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Third Circuit found that it was based "on the false and stigmatizing premise" that Muslim religious identity 'is a permissible proxy for criminality." Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the suit in 2012 on behalf of 11 individuals or organizations, including business owners, students and a decorated Iraq war veteran, who said they had been harmed by the surveillance. Plaintiffs alleged that NYPD detectives monitored stores, schools, restaurants and at least 20 mosques in Paterson, Newark, Rutgers University, and other New Jersey locations. The surveillance program, ostensibly suspended last year, was first reported in a Pulitzer-winning Associated Press series. The Third Circuit reversed a February 2014 dismissal of the suit, remanding it to a US District Court in New Jersey.