Emanuel tries to stay out of Muslim spy controversy in Newark

February 24, 2012

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(WBEZ/file)
Before coming to Chicago, Garry McCarthy was the top cop in Newark, N.J.

When Garry McCarthy was still head of the Newark police department, New York City cops started doing surveillance of Muslims in the New Jersey city.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of a secret demographic report by the New York Police Department which details Muslim communities in Newark. The report includes pictures and basic information on Muslim-run businesses, such as a West Indian American grocery store and an internet café where ID is not required. It profiles "Newark Fried Chicken," which is owned and operated by Afghans. Notes on the restaurant include the observation, "Location is in good condition and has seating capacity for 10 - 15 customers."

The report claims to be the result of a joint operation with Newark's police. But in a written statement, McCarthy said he was alerted as a courtesy that the NYPD would be on his turf, but he said no Newark cops were involved in the surveillance.

McCarthy wouldn't take questions from reporters on the subject Thursday, but the dust-up was a surprise to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"I've asked him not so much about this, but I want him to remind him, keep your eye focused on your job here in Chicago which is to make our streets safe," Emanuel said.

Emanuel said there won't be any similar community profiling or surveillance in Chicago.

Meanwhile, the news barely registered as a shrug among Muslim business people on Chicago’s Devon Avenue. The retail strip on the city’s far North Side is home to many halal restaurants and food stores, Islamic book stores and Islamic clothing stores.

“I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear,” said Abdel Omoden, who works at an internet cafe and electronics store on the street. “I’m not doing anything wrong that I should be concerned about hiding.”

Omoden said if Chicago Police had an interest in spying on Muslim businesses, McCarthy’s arrival as police chief likely would not have precipitated it.

“If they were to do anything as such, I think they have been doing it already,” he said.

The notion that law enforcement, whether local or federal, may already keep tabs on Muslim businesses and mosques in the area is widespread, and one to which many have grown resigned. They point to increased police presence on Devon Avenue. in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. And last year a Devon Avenue business owner, Tahawwur Rana, was convicted of supporting terrorists.

But a customer in Omoden’s store said McCarthy owes Chicago’s Muslims a direct reassurance that he will not allow a similar spying operation to happen here.

“He can do it here if he did it somewhere else,” said Azzeddine Zairi. “I mean, did he come on TV and say ‘Hey guys, I didn’t do it?' No, he didn’t make any statement regarding this affair, you know?” continued Zairi. “So he needs to say something, especially to the Muslims, who are the concerned ones.”

Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director of the Chicago Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his organization sent a letter to McCarthy on Thursday morning asking for that reassurance.

“Silence is not an option,” said Rehab. “He needs to come out and have a clear opinion either for or against. If it’s for, we need to understand why he defends such an action. If it’s against, then he needs to make that clear, and to condemn it for its illegality and unconstitutionality.”

WBEZ's North Side Bureau Reporter Odette Yousef contributed to this report.