PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania called on state authorities on Thursday to investigate the surveillance of Muslim college students by the New York City police.
The ACLU petition was joined by a dozen civil rights groups, including Muslim student groups at the University of Pennsylvania, Penn’s law school and Ursinus College.
The chapter asked state Attorney General Linda Kelly to investigate the extent of the surveillance of college students; her spokesman did not immediately return a message.
The demand follows Associated Press reports that the New York Police Department has monitored Muslim college students at Penn and elsewhere in the Northeast. The ACLU chapter in Connecticut also is calling on authorities to investigate spying in that state.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defends the practice. He said the city cannot let its guard down more than a decade after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Documents obtained by the AP show that the NYPD used undercover officers and informants to infiltrate Muslim student groups. An officer even went whitewater rafting with students and reported on how many times they prayed and what they discussed. Police also trawled college websites and blogs.
The ACLU and other civil rights groups argue that police should not indiscriminately target young Muslims. Police have more sophisticated ways to hone in on suspected terrorists, they said.
“They should be spending their time looking at the more specific behaviors that ought to draw their attention and make them investigate a person or a group. But simply gathering to pray or going on a whitewater rafting trip really shouldn’t be a source of suspicion,” said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Some Muslim students at Penn called the university’s initial response to the news “lackluster,” in sharp contrast to the immediate concern raised by the president of Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
“It basically took three times for the university to say, `We realize it was wrong to target Muslims,'” said Marc Manley, chaplain of Penn’s Muslim Student Association. “Obviously, the students are upset while not quite surprised certainly upset that they’re being spied on.”
At a Feb. 22 meeting of the University Council, Penn President Amy Gutmann said, “The university cannot protect students from the harsh realities of the world we all live in.”
“However, we do want every student on this campus whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish or any other belief to know that they are respected, valued and supported as members of the Penn community our community,” Gutmann said.