New York City
Two young men living in Brooklyn were arrested Feb. 25 and charged with plotting to travel to Syria to fight under the banner of ISIS. A third Brooklyn man was charged with helping organize and fund their activities. All three are immigrants from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and were living in the Midwood neighborhood. One of the men who reportedly sought to fight for ISIS, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, worked in a gyro shop. The other, Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, worked at cellphone repair kiosks owned by the third man charged, Abror Habibov, 30. (NYT, DNAInfo, Feb. 25)
New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton announced Jan. 29 a new 350-strong unit, the Strategic Response Group, dedicated to "disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities." An invoked example was the December hostage crisis in Sydney, which NYPD deputy commissioner for Intelligence John Miller said was an inevitability in NYC. But Bratton made clear the new unit will also be used against protesters: "It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris. They'll be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not... They’ll be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns—unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances." (Gothamist, Jan. 29)
Today's depressing news that some 10,000 joined a "New York Stands with Israel" rally at the UN (overseen by Chuck Schumer, of course) was compounded for me by a demoralizing encounter outside St. Mark's Church. I was biking down Second Ave., and saw the "FREE PALESTINE" banner outside the church, and stopped to check it out... To my disappointment it was the highly problematic group "If Americans Knew." It is obvious from its name that this is basically a right-wing nationalist formation with (at least) an anti-Semitic streak. Right, "Americans" are pure and righteous (never mind Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and "shock & awe"), but are being hoodwinked into supporting atrocities by those wily Jews... I nonetheless took one of their flyers just to see what it said, and was dismayed to find it was a big quote from the vile Gilad Atzmon, a peddler of the most rank anti-Semitic garbage...
A new development in the interminable culture wars over New York City's Ground Zero emerges as the site's museum finally opens. We've already noted outrage over the crass commercialism at the museum's souvenir shop (!). Now a Jews Against Islamophobia coalition is planning a May 21 vigil at the site to demand that the National September 11 Memorial Museum edit a six-minute video to be screened there, entitled "The Rise of Al Qaeda," that "contains disturbing terminology linking Islam with terrorism and that fails to contextualize al-Qaeda." The probem is that this assertion is being made despite the fact that only a select few have actually viewed the video. Daily Beast informs us that Peter Gudaitis, "chief executive of the New York Disaster Interfaith Network" (they apparently mean New York Disaster Interfaith Services, and Gudaitis is listed on their website as a member of the board of directors) "said that after the screening, every single one of the 10 religious leaders present voiced concerns that the video didn't do enough to separate Al Qaeda from mainstream Islam. He called the film in its current form 'reckless.'" According to the Daily News, Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, imam of Masjid Manhattan, resigned from the Lower Manhattan Clergy Council, a group advising the museum, after officials rejected the group's suggestions to alter the film. Apparently the offense is that the film calls the 9-11 attackers "Islamists," and describes their mission as "jihad."
The new commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD) William Bratton announced April 16 the disbanding of a surveillance unit used to spy on Muslim communities. The Demographics Unit, established in 2003, utilized plainclothes detectives to map communities both inside and outside New York City, tracking the movements and conversations of Muslim individuals. According to the New York Times, the unit, composed of around 12 detectives, was created to look for "hot spots" of radicalization that could theoretically provide early warning of possible terrorist activities. Surveillance focused on 28 "ancestries of interest." At a pretrial examination (PDF) before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Division Thomas Galati admitted that the program had never generated a lead. The tactics of the unit had drawn significant criticism and generated two federal lawsuits.
Pretty hysterical irony. Gawker reported Jan. 24 that New York's newly elected populist Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered a private speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) the night before, behind closed doors at Manhattan's Hilton hotel—and that a reporter from Capital New York who managed to infiltrate the event was ejected by security, although not before recording audio in which the mayor can be heard hailing fealty to Israel as "elemental to being an American" because the US has "no greater ally on earth." The New York Times wrote that the affair "led to questions...about the transparency of his young administration, especially given his repeated pledges during last year's campaign to oversee a more open and inclusive City Hall than that of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg." And it's doubly unbecoming given how de Blaz played to a very different crowd on the campaign trail, even citing The Autobiography of Malcom X as his favorite book! (See NYT, Oct. 8)
From Gothamist, Sept. 13:
No Charges For Running Over Schoolkids On Queens Sidewalk
The SUV driver who plowed into five teenagers on a Queens sidewalk yesterday morning has not been charged with any crime nor issued any summonses. This stands in stark contrast to another sidewalk collision yesterday: between a cyclist and Nicole Kidman in Manhattan. The crash in Queens resulted in very serious injuries; in Manhattan, Kidman was knocked down but unscathed. But in Kidman's case the cyclist was swiftly issued three summonses.
From Gothamist, Aug. 10:
4-Yr-Old Killed In SI Hit-And-Run, Cops Seek Mercedes Benz Driver
Police are looking for the driver of a black Mercedes Benz sedan in connection with the hit-and-run death of a four-year-old on Staten Island. A witness told WCBS 2, "The Mercedes stopped. Everybody was yelling at him. He knew what he did. He pulled out of the parking lot of the deli where I am standing right now and he ran the child over. He has no regard for life if he could leave a little child laying in the street after he ran him over and just drove away. He has no conscience."