NEW YORK (AP) — Several Muslim leaders have declined invitations to the mayor's annual year-end interfaith breakfast, saying they're upset at police department efforts to infiltrate mosques and spy on Muslim neighborhoods.
The imams and activists said in a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg that they're disturbed at his response to a series of stories by The Associated Press detailing New York Police Department intelligence-gathering programs that monitored Muslim groups, businesses and houses of worship.
Bloomberg has defended the NYPD, saying last week it doesn't take religion into account in its policing.
Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser acknowledged Wednesday that about a dozen people turned down the breakfast invitation. But he said "a couple dozen" more said they plan to attend.
"Mayor Bloomberg, the extent of these civil rights violations is astonishing, yet instead of calling for accountability and the rule of law, you have thus far defended the NYPD's misconduct," according to the letter containing the names of several dozen leaders and organizations. "We, on the other hand, believe that such measures threaten the rights of all Americans, and deepen mistrust between our communities and law enforcement."
It added: "We are deeply disturbed that to date we have only heard your words of strong support for these troubling policies and violations of our rights. We are equally disturbed by Commissioner (Raymond) Kelly's denials of what we know to be true as verified by the leaked documents."
The Muslim leaders said they appreciate the mayor's staunch support a year ago during an uproar over a planned Islamic center near the World Trade Center site. But they said they were disappointed by what he said after the AP stories since August about the police department's efforts to infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods and mosques with aggressive programs designed by a CIA officer who worked with the department after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The stories disclosed that a team of 16 police officers speaking at least five languages was assigned to use census information and government databases to map ethnic neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Documents reviewed by the AP revealed that undercover police officers known as rakers visited local businesses such as Islamic bookstores and cafes, chatting up store owners to determine their ethnicities and gauge their views. They played cricket and eavesdropped in ethnic cafes and clubs.
The AP stories also revealed that one of the CIA's most experienced clandestine operatives began working inside the police department in July as the special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence.
The CIA is prohibited from spying domestically. Its unusual partnership with the NYPD has troubled top lawmakers and prompted an internal investigation.
Bloomberg in October defended the arrangement, saying it was necessary in a dangerous world.
"There are people trying to kill us," he said. "And if the CIA can help us I'm all for getting any information they have and then letting the police department use it as — if it's appropriate to protect you and to protect me."
The letter noted that Muslims comprise at least 10 percent of the city's population. It said the Muslims leaders were seeking a meeting with the mayor to discuss the issues raised by the reports.
"We believe it is unequivocally wrong and fundamentally misguided to invest law enforcement resources in religious or racial profiling, rather than investigating suspicious activity," it said. "We seek your clear, unambiguous, public support for the rights and privacy of all New Yorkers, including Muslims; and a condemnation of all policies that profile and target communities and community groups solely based on their religion or the color of their skin."