CLEAR Project Contributes to Landmark Settlement Protecting Muslims from Discriminatory Surveillance

January 7, 2016 | CUNY School of Law

CUNY Law professor Ramzi Kassem and several students in the law school’s CLEAR (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) project celebrated a major victory Thursday in a landmark settlement of two ongoing lawsuits regarding surveillance targeting Muslims.


Prof. Ramzi Kassem during a June 2013 press conference announcing  lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers. (Photo courtesy of ACLU).


As part of the settlement, the New York Police Department has agreed to have a civilian lawyer, appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, be placed inside police headquarters to monitor their investigations involving political or religious activity.

The settlement was reached in two lawsuits, Raza v. City of New York and Handschu v. Special Services Division.

“Despite the fear and stigma that unwarranted NYPD spying has fostered in Muslim communities, representatives of those communities and their allies organized and took a courageous stand to demand change, through this lawsuit and in many other ways,” Kassem said in a press release distributed by CLEAR, the ACLU and the NYCLU. “This settlement offers all New Yorkers a solid platform from which to pursue further reform.”

Kassem is the founding director of CLEAR, which aims to address the legal needs of Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and other communities in New York City area that are impacted by national security and counter-terrorism policies and practices.

Kassem, CLEAR staff, and CUNY Law students working with CLEAR have been involved from as far back as 2009, working with local communities in response to their concerns over surveillance.

They filed the lawsuit in 2013 with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques and a charitable organization, alleging they were swept up in the NYPD’s dragnet surveillance of Muslims. The suit charged that the NYPD violated the U.S. and New York State constitutions by singling out and stigmatizing entire communities of New Yorkers based on their religion. The case sought systemic reforms to prevent law enforcement abuses.

Separately, lawyers, including the NYCLU, in Handschu filed papers in 2013 arguing that the NYPD’s investigations of Muslims violated a long-standing consent decree in that case, which was a class action to protect New Yorkers’ lawful political and religious activities from unwarranted NYPD surveillance.

The agreement is subject to court approval in both the Raza and Handschu cases and is the result of negotiations undertaken for over a year. The rules currently governing NYPD surveillance of political and other First Amendment-protected activity are called the Handschu Guidelines. They were originally ordered by the Handschu court in 1985.

Thursday’s proposed settlement includes modification of the guidelines along two principal lines: incorporating new safeguards and installing a civilian representative within the NYPD to reinforce all safeguards.

“Today’s settlement was a confirmation for the people and communities we’ve worked with of the mapping and surveillance that they have experienced,” Kassem said.

For additional information about the settlement and the cases, visit the New York Civil Liberties Union website.

Additional lawyers on the Raza case include Arthur Eisenberg of NYCLU, Hina Shamsi of the ACLU, Patrick Toomey and Ashley Gorski of the ACLU, Naz Ahmad of CLEAR, Beth Haroules of the NYCLU, and Hector Gallegos, Kyle Mooney, and Adam Hunt of Morrison & Foerster LLP. Lawyers on the Handschu case are CUNY Law distinguished lecturer Franklin Siegel, Eisenberg, Jethro M. Eisenstein, Martin R. Stolar, and Paul G. Chevigny.

Read CLEAR’s Mapping Muslims report at: