Policing of Muslim communities in the US: Inevitable fate?

Policing of Muslim communities in the US: Inevitable fate?
Comment: Clinton's proximity to US police and security forces means she would probably pass legislation expanding their ability to monitor communities, at the cost of civil liberties, writes Nick Rodrigo
5 min read
18 Oct, 2016
The institutionalisation of Islamophobic sentiment extends beyond Trump rallies [Getty]

Perhaps some of the most explosive comments made by Donald Trump during this current presidential race have been towards Muslims.

This has bled into his policy platform, with the Republican nominee calling for a ban on Muslim immigration and a database on America's Muslim community.

Clinton has steered clear of such comments or controversial policy statements. She has chosen a more conciliatory tone, and decried Trump's comments as playing into the hands of IS, noting that his vitriol makes him one of the group's top recruiters.

The recent implosion of Republican support for Trump has put Clinton at an eight-point lead, and Muslim Americans are set to turn out in record numbers to assist in Clinton's seemingly inevitable election. 

There is a danger that if Muslim Americans see Clinton's lack of Islamophobic rhetoric as a marker for progressive policies towards these communities, insidious policing techniques could creep into official government policy. Clinton embraces American financial power and views military force abroad, and police and cyber-power at home as indispensable tools.

This includes the surveillance of minority communities. Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and organising Centre noted that "to support Clinton, is to support war on our communities, both here and abroad".

Throughout her time as New York Senator (2001 – 2009), Clinton supported some of the most retrograde policies of the Bush administration. She endorsed the "Patriot Act" in 2001 and subsequently reauthorised it in 2006. The act constitutes some of the most wide ranging assault on Fourth Amendment Rights, but had a particularly egregious impact on Muslim communities such as the denial of due process, and lowering the bar of pre-existing law enforcement standards.

Bengali restaurants were flagged for having 'devout clientele' and Islamic student centres were trolled

During the Bush administration Clinton also consistently expressed support for the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). UASI was created in 2003 in reaction to the changing nature of terrorism in light of 9/11 and aims to assist in the allocation of homeland security grants based upon risk through the funding of high threat, high density urban areas where threats often materialise.

The programme has funded the hyper-militarisation of American police forces, particularly the NYPD through the Urban Shield arms expo, many of this gear put into use during #Blacklivesmatter protests in Ferguson and Charlotte this year. USAI has also funded information sharing and counter terrorism efforts through fusion centres and other mechanisms – working off a budget of $623 million between 2003 – 2010.

A series of Pulitzer Prize winning investigative articles by Associated Press documented these agencies and their collaboration with the FBI and CIA. According to the investigations special NYPD units comprised of undercover agents, or "rakers" trawled Muslim communities for anti-American sentiment, all under the under the guidance of the CIA – an illegal overreach by the Agency.

Bengali restaurants were flagged for having "devout clientele", Islamic student centres were trolled and even prominent Muslim leaders who dined with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg were investigated. Documents obtained by AP show how over 250 mosques in New York and New Jersey were monitored, some yielded obvious signs of criminal behaviour, but hundreds of others were placed under groundless scrutiny.

The militarisation of American policing is set to increase under a Clinton presidency

In February this year, the Obama administration called for the scaling down of federal funding to the USAI for 2017. Current New York Mayor Bill Blasio tore into Obama's plans, as did powerful Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and sensing a political opportunity, so did Clinton.

The power of these two senators managed to reverse the $300 million cuts to the USAI program. This manoeuvring by Clinton has afforded her an even deeper relationship with the security Czars, something that will be indispensable for her presidency.

The intersection of financial power with American politics means that the militarisation of American policing is set to increase under a Clinton presidency. Clinton will ensure that shareholders in these companies equipping American police forces will benefit over the coming years due to the debt she owes such companies.

Clinton's proximity to corporate America is matched by her closeness to the American police and security community. She has consistently expressed a desire to facilitate their work, and is likely to pass legislation, which will expand and deepen their ability to monitor communities.

The Patriot Act reduced legal limits on wiretaps, as well as allowing banks to release records to intelligence agencies investigating terrorism. All that is needed is a smoking gun for those legal provisions to be converted into cogent police practice.  

Clinton's proximity to corporate America is matched by her closeness to the American police and security community

Recent IS inspired attacks on the US may provide her with the pretext to do this – already police and intelligence officials are lamenting the democratic checks and balances which prevent them from law enforcement overreach.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller stated on September 22 that it would not be possible to catch Ahmad Khan Rahami, the key suspect in a dumpster bombing on September in New York, due to the insufficient amount of evidence.  

The previous day FBI Assistant Director Mike Steinbeck stated that the intuition of investigators is hindered by the American public who "[…] time and time again, has determined that they do not want us investigating everybody for as long as we want."

The institutionalisation of Islamophobic sentiment extends beyond Trump rallies and into the very institutions meant to be immune from it. Only US law prevents these bodies from acting on this sentiment, and Clinton has a proven track record of altering policy to liberalise the work of America's police and security services, at the cost of civil liberties.

As Kiswani notes, the issues concerning surveillance are not isolated to specific communities, and the resistance to these policies isn't either. "We are developing strategies that are rooted in local grassroots organising and an analysis of surveillance and policing that extends beyond our backyards, understanding that surveillance is one part of a global system of repression aimed at criminalising communities and crushing movements."

Nick Rodrigo is a journalist and PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Centre. He has worked in policy analysis on the Middle East in South Africa, as well as in Palestinian and Iranian human rights organisations in Palestine and the UK.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.