Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a man in Washington Heights about how the city could improve a park in the neigborhood.
He said it would be better if the Dominican population left.
Born and raised in Washington Heights, he said the neighborhood — once a middle-class, English-speaking area — had become a “third-world zoo” filled with blasting music, car alarms, motorcycles and dirt bikes.
Then, he began repeating slogans from Donald Trump’s campaign. “This country is not a country anymore,” for example. He says he plans to vote for Trump.
“I hate the neighborhood,” he said, not willing to accept that his new neigbors might find his accusations as unfair as he found his perceived new living conditions.
Trumpism goes hand-in-hand with 9/11 revisionism
A similar incursion of the national election into non-battleground New York occurred later in the week after NYC’s Department of Investigation released a report on the NYPD’s probe of political activities — what critics call surveillance, the subject of lawsuits concerning the violation of Muslims’ constitutional rights after 9/11.
Ray Kelly, who was police commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, appeared on the John Gambling Show Wednesday, blasting the report and insisting it had gone digging for sins from the Bloomberg era and found nothing.
In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary said that de Blasio “will continue to trust and support our NYPD, and he’ll continue to reject the divisive worldview of Donald Trump, Ray Kelly and Rudy Giuliani.”
That might seem like a partisan rebuttal, scoring a cheap shot against an enemy during the dog days of August.
But linking those figures is not inaccurate. And it’s important to stand firmly against the revisionist thinking that Kelly would like us to buy.
The DOI report did not come to particularly explosive or new conclusions about the NYPD Intelligence Bureau. Looking at a random selection of cases closed between 2010 and 2015, the report found the bureau regularly failed to follow procedures in investigations of political activity and documenting the roles of informants or undercovers in those investigations. A footnote in the report revealed that 95 percent of cases reviewed concerned Muslim subjects and/or Islam.
However, the report did not find that NYPD had acted improperly in opening investigations and it applauded NYPD’s counter-terrorism work.
So the takeaway might have been that the department is on better, though not perfect, behavior, but the report certainly could not be taken to imply that, as Kelly has suggested now and before, that there was nothing wrong with what was once known as the Demographics Unit’s activity. That included undercover officers infiltrating Muslim student groups, surveilling mosques and bookstores and restaurants.
According to the deposition of an NYPD official in 2012, the unit’s actions didn’t generate any leads or terrorism investigations: some proof that effectively suspicionless surveillance is counterproductive.
This week’s report even goes so far as to say that abiding by the court-ordered guidelines in full would not “have harmed the investigations at issue or hindered vigorous anti-terrorism enforcement.”
Pushing back on past mistakes
Still, it wasn’t long ago that New York Muslims’ constitutional rights were violated, unhelpfully, in the name of safety.
Though the men who implemented those policies have left New York, they retain the national stage — former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, for example, continues to trumpet being the person who stationed police officers in mosques.
And Trump has criticized de Blasio for shuttering the Demographics Unit responsible for what often amounted to Muslim surveillance.
That’s just a local version of Trump’s tall wall at the Mexican border and temporary ban on Muslim entry to the United States.
Maybe he will continue to soften those statements, and whether he wins or loses, maybe we will try to ignore or forget them. But they’re not far away, even here in NYC.
They are opinions held by those like the man in Washington Heights, and though other New Yorkers might be more circumspect with words like “zoo” and complaints about language, we have had and continue to have Trump-like impulses in our local body politic.
They need continued rebuttal.