NEW YORK (AP) — Religious leaders upset at police efforts to spy on Muslims plan to skip Mayor Michael Bloomberg's annual year-end interfaith breakfast, saying Bloomberg shouldn't be defending the tactics.
The imams and activists from a variety of faiths said in a letter to 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 department, saying last week it doesn't take religion into account in its policing.
About a dozen people turned down invitations to Friday's breakfast but "a couple dozen" more said they plan to attend, Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said Wednesday.
The letter to Bloomberg contained the names of several dozen Muslim leaders and organizations and said they believe the police department's tactics "threaten the rights of all Americans, and deepen mistrust between our communities and law enforcement."
"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," the letter said.
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 reported on 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 also 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.
In October, Bloomberg 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."
It also said: "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 (police Commissioner Raymond) Kelly's denials of what we know to be true as verified by the leaked documents."
Kelly, meanwhile, met Wednesday evening at a Bronx mosque with two imams who weren't listed on the letter and with young fans of a police department youth soccer league, whose winners were presented with a trophy.
Read AP's previous stories and documents about the NYPD at: http://www.ap.org/nypd