New York City is joining a new global, terror-busting network to try to combat homegrown extremism, a move that immediately raised concerns among civil liberties advocates who fear it will unfairly target Muslims.
Mayor de Blasio on Tuesday announced the city’s involvement in the program — the first of its kind — at the United Nations, along with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Paris, Minneapolis, Rotterdam, and Montreal are among the 25 cities around the world that have also signed up for the program — dubbed “Strong Cities” — which encourages participants to communicate directly with one another about suspicious activity while “respecting the fundamental rights of citizens.”
De Blasio, speaking at the UN, said New York joined because the group will target “intolerance” and make the city safer.
De Blasio said the anti-extremist network would target terrorists, as well as hate killers like Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof.
“The Strong Cities network will be a message to all families who have lost loved ones because of extremism that something is being done in a new and powerful way,” de Blasio said.
He also stressed that the alliance would not focus on any one type of extremism, and pointedly referenced past violent attacks like the 1994 shootings on greater Boston Planned Parenthood clinics and the racially motivated Charleston, S.C., shooting in June that killed nine African-American churchgoers.
‘We will be vigilant against all forms of violent extremism, whether it’s based in religious, or racial, or nationalistic or ideological intolerance,’ de Blasio said.
But civil liberties activists were nervous the program would mirror other anti-terror initiatives, which they feel have unjustly targeted Muslims.
Last week, 20 groups sent the mayor a letter asking for a sit-down to discuss the city’s involvement with the partnership, expressing reservations about other anti-extremism initiatives like Strong Cities that come out of the Department of Justice.
The groups — including the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Muslim American Lawyers and the Justice League NYC — also said they were concerned the city would eventually become active with the Justice Department’s “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, programs, which they say “overwhelmingly” target Muslim communities.
“The concern is that Strong Cities is opening the door to the kind of problematic CVE program we’ve seen in Boston, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles,” said Michael Price of the Brennan Center for Justice, which signed the letter.
Civil liberties activists were nervous the program would mirror other anti-terror initiatives, which they feel have unjustly targeted Muslims.
He said there’s no proof that efforts to combat violent extremism at the level of social workers and school teachers — as “Strong Cities” recommends — ever worked and they often just end up alienating the community.
In the letter, the groups cite the recent arrest of a Muslim high school student in Texas on suspicion of bomb making — when he actually brought a homemade clock to school — as evidence of how “high levels of suspicion” harm the community.
It also referenced the NYPD surveillance programs that spied on Muslims, instituted under ex-Mayor Bloomberg, as an example of the kind of program they hoped to avoid.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, said she appreciated de Blasio’s comments about diversity, but said “today’s announcement raises concerns because what we have heard about CVEs indicates that they can be counterproductive, violative of constitutional rights and stigmatizing.”
NYCLU’s Donna Lieberman said such programs can be ‘stigmatizing.’ A spokeswoman for the mayor said the city is not joining such a group.
The NYPD declined to comment.
In her speech to the United Nations, Lynch cited the important work the Justice Department has done in Boston and Minneapolis — two CVE cities — as places that are helped by partnerships like Strong Cities.
In a release announcing the program, officials said the group will allow municipal leaders to discuss ways they’ve tried to combat “violent extremism,” as well as strengthen ties between local and national authorities in the same country.