The recent stories of the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim citizens are not news to many South Asians in Queens.
Seven organizations that advocate on behalf of South Asian community members released a report last week that documents South Asian citizens’ experiences of being profiled by local and national law enforcement agencies.
The research was conducted over 18 months and included surveys, focus groups and interviews with more than 650 respondents, mostly from Queens – the borough that houses most of the Bangladeshi, Indian, Nepali, Pakistani and Sri Lankan communities in the U.S.
Most of the respondents reported being approached often by law enforcement for no apparent reason other than to request their national origin or religion.
“While hanging out with friends in Elmhurst, cops stopped and asked if we were Bangladeshi or if we had drugs,” reported a 26-year-old Indian Hindu man from Elmhurst.
South Asian Youth Action, an organization in Elmhurst that offers educational programs and counseling for youth, says that profiling of their members, mostly teenagers happens so often that they consider it “almost commonplace.”
“South Asian youth are consistently being singled out by law enforcement simply because of the color of their skin or religious affiliation,” said executive director Udai Tambar in a written statement. “In essence, they are being told from a very young age that they are not equally protected by law enforcement, despite the fact that this is where they call home.”
˝wo friends, who one evening went to the movies in Kew Gardens, reported that a couple started calling them names, mocking one of the men’s turban saying, “Osama bin Laden — I wouldn’t want to mess with you. God knows what you be hiding in that s—t,” recalled a 23-year-old Sikh security agent from South Ozone Park. The staff of the cinema overheard this and contacted the NYPD to report a possible terror alert. “We were escorted out and detained by 12 cops and three undercover detectives,” he said.
˝ccording to the report, some people, who were stopped and questioned by police, were also asked to spy on their own communities in order to obtain supposed counterterrorism intelligence. At times they were promised immigration benefits if they complied, or to face adverse immigration consequences if they did not.
Various respondents said the effect of the monitoring and questioning has caused them to distrust law enforcement.
“That is a direct result of 10 years of overpolicing Arab and Muslim communities,” said Monami Maulik, the executive director of the civil rights organization Desis Rising Up and Moving in Jackson Heights. She demands action from the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg. “Our goal is to pass legislation to end racial profiling.”
Bloomberg has so far rejected the criticism, stating that police only go where leads take them and that the counterterrorism program has kept the city safe.