As Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne continue to deal with fallout from the use of the anti-Muslim film The Third Jihad in NYPD training, some Muslim groups are beginning to call for their resignations. A protest organized by the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) met outside City Hall yesterday to demand corrective action by the NYPD. Runnin’ Scared talked to Cyrus McGoldrick, the Civil Rights Manager for CAIR, about the group’s concerns.
Runnin’ Scared: First, a little background — could you sum up your concerns with The Third Jihad, and its role in police training?
Cyrus McGoldrick: I mean in some respects, the issue is larger than the film itself. But the film is terrible. It’s inflammatory misinformation, spliced with angry men in beards yelling in Arabic, showing bloody bodies… just obvious propaganda with a few half-truths weaved in there to make it seem a little more reasonable. It’s pretty terrifying that this would be presented to a police officer as something that should inform his police work. Certainly, I’m a free speech advocate — people should be able to make whatever kind of crazy movies they want. But for this to be legitimized within the police department is unacceptable.
RS: If the film isn’t really the issue, what is?
McGoldrick: It was as if I said to my wife, “I’m sorry that your feelings were hurt by me cheating on you,” instead of apologizing for the cheating. I think the police department and the mayor’s office think that if they keep repeating themselves, that eventually the news media will get tired of the story, and move on — which unfortunately is often true. So it was bad enough that the film was shown in training, worse that they covered it up, and even worse than that, we now find out that it’s been shown to 1500 people, and the commissioner knowingly had a role in it. He lied about it until they were caught in the act, and only just now have they decided to address the issue. It’s an unbelievable situation, and I think if this were happening to any other community in this city, heads would have rolled a year ago. This is a bigger issue now than propaganda or police training — this is an issue about the integrity of public officials.
RS: The apology from the commissioner wasn’t enough?
McGoldrick: It wasn’t. I just point people back to the apology. If you read that, it’s condescending and ridiculous. Even if it was a good apology, it’s way too little and way too late. I know they’re proud of their outreach efforts, they’re very proud of the alliances they’ve made with certain imams. But really, it’s all for show. They have absolutely no real, concrete outreach to mainstream Muslims in this city. None of the grassroots organizations, just a couple of token imams who stand in line for the photo ops, and will tell the world that everything is O.K. while their mosques are being spied on.
RS: So what now?
McGoldrick: I don’t want to get caught up in the resignation issue. That’s a necessity. It’s not even worth discussing. But we actually had three demands yesterday, and I think even more important than the resignations [of Ray Kelly and Paul Browne] is immediate corrective training for the 1500 officers who have seen the film. And number two, independent oversight over this police department. Every police department in this country has some sort of oversight, to make sure they follow the laws. Some major cities even have civilian oversight over the police. This police department does not even have an inspector general.
RS: Could you talk a little bit about the issue of racial profiling?
McGoldrick: I do want to believe that most police officers who sign up for this job do it for the right reasons — that they really want to protect the city. At the same time, it seems to me like there are policies in place that institutionalize racism. This propaganda film is much smaller than the surveillance issue, or stop-and-frisk. For example, there’s a police program that told officers to look at 29 “ancestries of interest” for general surveillance. And all of them were Muslim-majority nationalities, and the 29th was the “American Black Muslim.” [The program McGoldrick referenced is known as the Demographics Unit, which came to light last November.]
If you’re telling police officers to, when they see a black or Latino young man, stop him and search for weapons — what does that say? It’s really shocking that racism can be so established in the largest police force in the world, that protects one of the most diverse cities.
The most important thing for us is correction, not retribution. Certainly the issue of the resignations was very publicized. But I think our other two demands show a desire to really correct things. But I don’t think we can give either Commissioner Kelly or Mayor Bloomberg the benefit of the doubt anymore.