Impact of NYPD Surveillance: Limiting the Voices of Our Youth

Like any stu­dent who embarks on their jour­ney through col­lege, I spent much of my under­grad­u­ate years at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty dis­cov­er­ing my iden­ti­ty, sense of belong­ing and inter­ests in life.  As I reflect on those days not so long ago, I now real­ize how impor­tant being a part of a cul­tur­al stu­dent group was for me and the impact it had on my sense of iden­ti­ty. For me, my involve­ment in the Philip­pine Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion played a sig­nif­i­cant role in how I came to iden­ti­fy, both indi­vid­u­al­ly and with­in a com­mu­ni­ty. Know­ing that, it is dif­fi­cult for me to imag­ine expe­ri­enc­ing those moments of self-search­ing and strug­gle while also hav­ing restric­tions on my abil­i­ty to find my com­mu­ni­ty.

Imag­ine hav­ing your stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion be the tar­get of a police sur­veil­lance pro­gram just for the mere fact that your stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion is racial­ly, eth­ni­cal­ly, or reli­gious­ly-based.

Well, it hap­pened in New York and beyond. Stu­dent groups, in this instance Mus­lim stu­dent groups, were tar­get­ed by the New York Police Depart­ment (NYPD). But, it doesn’t just stop there.

It’s not a secret that the NYPD has long-been spy­ing on stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions, places of wor­ship and busi­ness­es.

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Image from Pol­i­tick­er

In fact, just a few months ago, the Mus­lim Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Coali­tion and the Asian Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund (AALDEF) released a report which doc­u­ments this sur­veil­lance pro­gram and its impact on the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty since its incep­tion in 2002. Need­less to say, the effects on the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty have been dras­tic, caus­ing indi­vid­u­als to restrict their speech and reli­gious prac­tice as well as their every­day activ­i­ties. And, with the recent release of evi­dence that the NYPD has been con­duct­ing in-depth sur­veil­lance on Mus­lim Amer­i­cans by des­ig­nat­ing them as “ter­ror­ism enter­pris­es” and try­ing to infil­trate at least one local com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tion, I can only imag­ine the impact that this will have on indi­vid­u­als. More­over, as a recent col­lege grad­u­ate, I can’t help but won­der what this means for 17 and 18 year olds as they embark on their col­lege expe­ri­ence, a time many Amer­i­cans use to find them­selves, fig­ure out where they belong, and build com­mu­ni­ty.

Being a part of a stu­dent group and par­tic­i­pat­ing in cul­tur­al activ­i­ties helped me to feel a sense of belong­ing and allowed me to learn more about Fil­ipino cul­ture and his­to­ry dur­ing my four years at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty. It pro­vid­ed me a space in which to con­nect with peers who shared sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences and strug­gles. It’s dis­heart­en­ing to know that my peers will not have the same oppor­tu­ni­ty, which is such a big part of the col­lege expe­ri­ence. What’s worse, if they chose to explore their iden­ti­ty in these tra­di­tion­al ways, their civ­il rights may be vio­lat­ed as well as their pri­va­cy.

We can­not not let the NYPD or oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies lim­it the abil­i­ty of youth to find their iden­ti­ty or of any­one else to engage in their com­mu­ni­ty by threat­en­ing their civ­il rights and reli­gious free­dom. We must demand account­abil­i­ty from our gov­ern­ment agen­cies and offi­cials. We must move for­ward — not back­wards – because a bet­ter future is ahead of us. We owe this much to our youth, our com­mu­ni­ties, and our nation.

AuriaJoy Asaria
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Admin Assis­tant
South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er, SAALT