Activists gather in front of police headquarters before the start of a rally in New York, Monday, March 5, 2012. About three dozen people gathered to demonstrate support for the NYPD and their surveillance of Muslim communities. (AP Photo)
NEW YORK (AP) – Qazi Qayyoom, an imam in Queens, says he believes the New York Police Department is keeping his community safe, and if that means some Muslims are monitored, so be it.
"The police, they come to us and say, 'Is everything OK? How can we help you?" he said Monday. "They are not trying to hurt us. For this, I want to say thank you and tell them I support them."
Qayyoom and about three dozen other people on Monday attended the first rally held by Muslims in support of the NYPD following a series of Associated Press stories detailing the police department's secret surveillance of mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and college campuses across the Northeast since Muslim extremists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, killing thousands of people.
The rally, held by the American Islamic Leadership Coalition outside police headquarters in downtown Manhattan, illustrated a division even among the faith's adherents about how far authorities should go in seeking to protect the nation's largest city from terrorists. Other Muslim groups were quick to say the coalition didn't represent their views.
Among the speakers was Dr. Zudhi Jasser, the narrator of "The Third Jihad," a documentary about the dangers of radical Islam that the NYPD showed in the lobby of a police training area and has since disavowed.
"We are not here to criticize the NYPD but rather thank them for monitoring extremists, a job that Muslims should be doing," Jasser said.
Jasser and others, including activist Manda Zand Ervin, said that the danger is clearly coming from within the Muslim community and that it's up to other Muslims to help law enforcement stop the threat. They said Muslims do not want to give up civil rights and are behind transparency in police work but it is wrong to suggest that all Muslims are somehow afraid of the NYPD, the nation's biggest police department.
"In no way do we want to be spied on," Jasser said. "But this is not about spying. This is about monitoring and public programs."
The NYPD didn't comment Monday. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said he is doing everything within the law to protect the city from another terrorist attack. The department is bound under federal guidelines, known the Handschu guidelines, on how it can do certain investigations, and Kelly said the department's efforts follow them.
"Anyone who intimates that it is unlawful for the police department to search online, visit public places or map neighborhoods has either not read, misunderstood or intentionally obfuscated the meaning of the Handschu guidelines," Kelly said at a weekend breakfast.