New York City

  • February 21, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Thanks to scholars like Michelle Alexander, Americans and policymakers are increasingly questioning the effectiveness the nation’s system of mass incarceration and taking note of its great harm to certain populations of Americans.

    In this ACS Book Talk, Alexander, a former ACLU attorney and now a law professor at Ohio State University, explains how mass incarceration has disproportionately targeted African Americans. She wrote that more “African Americans are under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”

    The widespread use of solitary confinement in our nation’s prisons is also coming under greater – and long overdue – scrutiny, as noted in this ACSblog post, which highlighted a 2011 statement from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that blasted solitary confinement as “a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation” that “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

    The conservative columnist George F. Will is also weighing in on the matter, noting in a Feb. 20 piece for The Washington Post that “tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in protracted solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture and probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’”

    Will cites federal law on torture barring “conduct ‘specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.’” He notes what others have long known, that “severe mental suffering from prolonged solitary confinement puts the confined at risk of brain impairment.”

    Although solitary confinement was once considered a humane tool for rehabilitation, it is now widely considered debilitating, creating inmates who are unfit for social interaction.

    “Americans should be roused against this by decency – and prudence,” Will writes.


  • July 12, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    New York City’s leaders, most notably its billionaire mayor, are bent on supporting a stop-and-frisk policy that according to the police department’s own numbers overwhelmingly target minorities.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to defend the policy, which allows police officers to stop-and-frisk people in the city on suspicion of criminal activity.

    Recently Bloomberg took to a church in Brooklyn to trumpet the policy, saying, “We are not going to going to walk away from a strategy that we know saves lives.” And although he went on to claim city officials would strive to carry out stop-and-frisk “properly,” he has also denigrated Philadelphia’s efforts to reform its frisking policies. “Why would anyone want to trade what we have here for the situation in Philadelphia – more murders, higher crime?” he said in May.

    But numbers regarding stops and frisks show that the policy hardly deters crime, let alone saves lives. According to statistics from the New York Police Department more than 680,000 people were stopped in 2011 and in 88 percent of the stops no arrests were made.

    The numbers do, however, show that racial profiling is taking place. Of the nearly 686,000 people stopped last year 84 percent of them were black or Latino, The Times reports. Pace University law professor Randolph M. McLaughlin told the newspaper, “People are starting to wonder: ‘What’s really going on here? Is this a racial policy?”

    Noting that courts are increasingly assessing stop-and-frisk tactics, McLaughlin added, “And judges read newspapers too.”

    In May, U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin permitted a class-action lawsuit against the New York Police Department’s policy, saying she was seriously concerned about officials’ “troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”

  • August 23, 2010
    As noted by First Amendment scholar Charles C. Haynes, anti-mosque rhetoric is not unique to the situation unfolding around the construction of the Islamic center in New York City. The Washington Post reports on strife surrounding plans for construction of an Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., not far outside Nashville. Local officials, The Post notes, approved the project in the spring, but the affair has been turbulent. The newspaper also cites similar controversies developing in California and Florida as well as a recent Time poll showing that "43 percent of Americans hold unfavorable views of Muslims, far outpacing" unfavorable views of other religious groups.

    The planned construction of an Islamic worship center in Murfreesboro, which The Post describes as "a quiet town of 100,000 people, largely white conservative Christians," drew especially heated opposition. Jim Daniel, a former county commissioner, told the newspaper, "What I sense is a certain amount of fear fueling the animosity," and that residents worry "the Muslims coming in here will keep growing in numbers and override our system of law and impose sharia law." TV preacher Pat Robertson helped stoke the sentiment on his "700 Club," broadcast asserting that it was "entirely possible," for Muslims to bribe Murfreesboro officials to help push the project forward.

    Akbar Ahmed, head of Islamic studies at American University, told The Post, "We are becoming aware that the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims is wider than it was after 9/11, and that's a frightening prospect."

    In a recent column for FindLaw, constitutional law expert Marci Hamilton wrote that furor over the construction of the Islamic center in NYC revealed a troubling threat to a core American value - religious liberty. "The United States has established the most remarkable principle in the history of cultures - an absolute right to believe whatever you want," she wrote.

  • August 18, 2010
    The rising rhetoric and increasing rallies aimed at disparaging Islam represent "a new threat to the religious freedom of Muslims in America," writes the First Amendment Center's Charles C. Haynes.

    Haynes, the director of the Newseum's Religious Freedom Education Project, notes that "anti-Muslim rhetoric has taken an ominous turn in recent months as a growing number of political and community leaders - some with tea-party affiliations - have begun warning of a ‘Muslim takeover' of America."

    Haynes cites numerous anti-Muslim rallies from Tennessee to California, including the loud opposition to the construction of an Islamic center in New York City.

    Haynes writes:

    In recent months, tea-party groups in New York have also helped organize opposition to mosques in Manhattan (the controversial plan to build an Islamic center two blocks from ground zero), Brooklyn and Staten Island. Tea-party meetings in Tennessee, Texas and California feature speakers warning of the ‘Islamization of America.'

    In an ironic twist reminiscent of the anti-Catholic rallies of the 19th century (warning against ‘Romanism' seeking ‘despotic control' of America), anti-mosque protests in Murfreesboro, Temecula and elsewhere feature groups of citizens invoking their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly to call for denying another group of citizens First Amendment protection.


    If the anti-mosque protests are any indication, Islamophobia - the fear and loathing of Islam as a ‘violent political ideology' - is a growing threat to religious freedom in the United States. And in many communities, some tea-party activists are actively encouraging and supporting this dangerous trend.