CAIRO - New revelations about police spying on Somali immigrants in New York's second most populous city of Buffalo have reignited the row over the policy policy of targetting innocent, law-abiding Muslims in the United States."We work with Homeland Security. We work with the Department of Justice," Yahye Y. Omar, chairman of the Imams Council of Western New York, told Buffalo News newspaper on Sunday, March 18.
We work with the police. They know us.
Omar has been working actively with Somali youth on the West Side as executive director of Help Everyone Achieve Livelihood (HEAL); a nonprofit that helps immigrants and refugees.
Encouraging young Somalis to engage with their society, he helped establish a law enforcement education program in 2010 for Somali high school and college students.
The program brought in representatives from the FBI, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the State Police to speak about the role of law enforcement and careers.
On a wall of his office, Omar places a photo of a local Somali now with the Baltimore Police Department.
"We are working with our youth to be good citizens," he said.
"We are doing everything we can ... our dream is to help refugee people serve their country, just as other people serve their country."
The anger followed revelations that the New York Police have continued their surveillance of Muslims of Somali origins in Buffalo.
Erie County Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman, the second-in-command to Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, told The Buffalo News that he have met four to five NYPD members since he took his post in July 2010."The extent of those meetings was simply to introduce ourselves and exchange contact information in the event that one agency needed help or assistance from the other."
But the revelation left Omar puzzled why the NYPD continued its secret surveillance on the Muslim community.
"When you hide something, that gives people the reason to go behind you, to investigate you," he said.
"I don't know what else ... that they want to look at."
The tactics of the NYPD have enraged other officials who demanded a full report of its activities to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
"If I had still been up there that would have bothered me a lot," Peter J. Ahearn, who headed the FBI office in Buffalo from 2001 to 2006 and now works as a consultant helping businesses deal with government, told Buffalo News.
"With the reputation the NYPD does have, and I know this factually, they will do different things in cities around the country and not even let law enforcement know they are there.
"There are reasons to be concerned," he said.
A number of scandals have erupted over the past year in which New York police involved in spying on Muslim communities in the US.
Last year, the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD sent out undercover officers into ethnic communities to track their daily life and monitor mosques as well as Muslim student organizations.
It also revealed that the NYPD intelligence had established so-called Demographics Unit using plainclothes police officers to monitor ethnic groups in the metropolitan region.
The AP also found that the NYPD kept secret files on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims.
The NYPD tactics were counterproductive to outreach efforts between US officials and Buffalo Muslim community.
"If you are not talking to law enforcement, and the local police department rolls up on you, it creates an officer-safety issue,' said Ahearn.
Also it can prove detrimental to the efforts that the local law enforcement community is making in the Muslim community. We had some very good community outreach up there."
Dr. Khalid Qazi, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York, agrees.
"This is all related to the security of the homeland, I don't have any doubt about that," he said of the NYPD's foray into Buffalo.
"The only question in my mind is, when we are working very cooperatively, and in a very proactive fashion for the security of the homeland, whether these types of actions are counterproductive.
"And I guess the issue always will be, where do we stop so we don't compromise the civil rights and civil liberties of innocent Americans?"