July 25, 2014

Why Spy?: Students, Faculty question NYPD use of informant on campus

By: Senior Staff writers, Aya Abdelmoamen, Ahmed Jaradat, Anastasia LaDouceur, Manolo Morales, Navita Nauth, Taja Whitted, and Neka Williams

 

The use of an informant to put John Jay Muslim students under NYPD scrutiny caused a mixture of fear and shock amongst students, faculty and administration.

Students and professors consider college a safe place where ideas are expressed. Professors said that to infiltrate the Muslim student community without any surface of criminal or illegal activity is illicit and “outrageous.” And students feel that the New York Police Department’s actions were wrong and in violation of their civil rights.

This represents an “invasion of privacy,” said Michelle Tsang, a senior representative of the Student Council. The council controls the budget and charter of student groups. The council, she said, stood strongly behind the MSA.

Mehak Kapoor, president of Student Council, said, “The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, unless the investigator has a warrant or probable cause.” Kapoor acknowledges that the MSA has been part of the John Jay community for years, and she wonders why the NYPD would search the MSA if nothing harmful has happened within their events or meetings.

Kapoor said she is willing to help the MSA club in anyway she can.  “We are here for you guys.”

The NYPD singled out the MSA from all other clubs at John Jay by having Shamiur Rahman, 19, spy on them and report their doings.

“Why did the NYPD not infiltrate other clubs with informants? Why not investigate the Christian Club, the Dominican Club, among various others here at John Jay?” Rosario Barrera, senior, 20, asked.

Students feel targeted because of the way the NYPD went about seeking information on Muslim students.

“I feel targeted. We feel targeted” as Muslims, said Ammarah Karim, president of the Desi-West Indian club.

Even students who support the use of informants took issue with how it was done here.

“I think having informants in schools is a great thing because you never know what really goes on in a school until it happens,” said Sabrina Guillaume, 21, a senior.

“By having informants we can stop whatever is going to happen, before it actually happens. However, I think the way the NYPD went about targeting MSA in particular is very unconstitutional.”

In President Travis’s statement to the college, he said, “Any surveillance practices that interfere with constitutionally protected activities such as…the free exercise of religion must be considered inconsistent with the mission and values of our college.”

Talha Shahbaz, president of the MSA, said he was hurt by the news. Rahman, he said, who came to events smelling of marijuana, gave the impression that he was seeking help.

After reading Rahman’s Facebook post that said he had been an informant for the NYPD and regretted his decision, Shahbaz said that he spoke with him on Facebook, and forgave him.

Student clubs and organizations are where students get to be themselves and relieve the stress school can cause. However, some students are concerned if they will still be able to do so freely.

“We are all forming clubs and expressing ourselves, but how can we express ourselves if we have to watch our every step?” Mark Garceran, senior, 21, said.

The police did not give the public a chance to say if their procedure was important or acceptable, instead their standards were imposed on the student body.

“We feel personally attacked when we find out that there were informants and spies sent out by the NYPD to monitor us. We trust the NYPD to do what is right, but not at the cost of targeting us as if we are the criminals,” Barrera said.

Now that the informant, who was not a student of John Jay, has entered and exited the college, some students do not feel safe.

Imagine one of your trusted friends betraying you, or a classmate telling an official your every move.

Barrera said, “Students do not have anything to hide, but it makes it more difficult for them to befriend another person. How do we not know there are more informants in school working for the NYPD, or better yet, the FBI? We just don’t know anymore.”

Informants were placed in other CUNY schools but some students now empathize with others who were also targets of the NYPD.

“We know these things are happening, but when it happens to you, you realize it’s more real. This made it more personal,” said Shahrir Raafi, 21, a junior.

Professors voiced their shock to the NYPD’s actions. They agree that law enforcement must be vigilant, but not when it’s targeting students in a criminal justice school without any evidence of illegal activities.

The college’s motto is to Educating for Justice, but many professors and students agree what happened here is not justice.

“It’s not surprising that in this atmosphere of fear of terrorism and Islamophobia that this kind of violation would take place,” said Professor Greg Donaldson, who teaches a criminal justice course in media. “But it is surprising and shocking that it happened in John Jay.”

Karen Kaplowitz, president of Faculty Senate, expressed empathy on behalf of herself, all other faculty to the student body and the MSA members.

“There’s this idea that the law enforcement agencies seem to believe–that universities are where ideas foment because that’s the nature of universities–ideas are exchanged and expressed and a lot of people explore different ideologies and religions, so perhaps it’s a ripe field for getting information,” she said. “But I don’t think the evidence at the CUNY schools support that.”

Professor Donaldson believes that after 9/11, the line was drawn much too far on the side of security and violates civil rights.

“There were all kinds of violations of individual rights and people were okay with it because they assumed that it wasn’t their rights that were going to be violated, and it was only going to be the rights of the so called ‘others.’”

Mark Naison, professor and chair of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, spoke about the balance of freedom and safety and he mentioned the fact that arbitrary use of policies should be examined, to see if there is an overuse of power. “We need to take a close look at what’s being done in the name of security and whose doing it.”

Faculty members argued that this college especially promotes the need to educate for justice and that the use of an informant violated the protocol that forces law enforcement to get notification or permission from the college president.

Professor Delores Jones-Brown, Director of the Center on Race, Crime, and Justice said, “To be infiltrated in this way in this place has a stronger feel of injustice than it might in other colleges becase we are the college of criminal justice and our brand is ‘we are fierce advocates for