Bloomberg blasts questions from the Yale president (and reporters) on the NYPD’s Muslim-student surveillance

Bloomberg at the Brooklyn Public Library. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Responding this morning to a question about the NYPD's reported surveillance of Muslim student groups, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "I don’t know why keeping the country safe is antithetical to the values of Yale."

"Yale’s freedoms to do research, to teach, to give people a place to say what they want to say is defended by the law enforcement throughout this country," said the mayor during the question-and-answer portion of a press conference at the Brooklyn Public Library's main branch this morning.

A recent A.P. report revealed that the N.Y.P.D. had monitored Muslim student groups, including at institutions like Yale, and had "even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students' names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed."

The president of Yale, Richard Levin, has since written a letter saying that "police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States."

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The mayor said he saw nothing wrong with any of it.

"If going on websites and looking for information is not what Yale stands for, I don’t know," said Bloomberg. "It’s the freedom of information ... Of course we’re gonna look at anything that’s publicly available and in the public domain. We have an obligation to do so. And it is to protect the very things that let Yale survive."

A reporter pointed out that recent reports indicate that the NYPD did more than look on websites, including the rafting trip.

The mayor responded: "The only whitewater rafting I’ve done I did with my daughter. I don’t think she has a lot of information that I was interested in in terms of her political views. It was a long time ago. I’m not sure at that time she had political views. She certainly does now."

The reporter persisted, asking if perhaps accompanying students on a such a trip might have gone one step too far.

"No," said the mayor. "We have to keep this country safe. This is a dangerous place. Make no mistake about it. It’s very cute to go and to blame everybody and say we should stay away from anything that smacks of intelligence gathering. The job of our law enforcement is to make sure that they prevent things. And you only do that by being proactive. You have to respect people’s right to privacy. You have to obey the law. And I think the police officers across this country, at the federal level, state level, the city level, do that. But having said all of that, you are not going to survive, you will not be able to be a journalist and write what you want to say if the people who want to take away your freedoms are allowed to succeed."

When asked by another reporter whether he was aware that the N.Y.P.D. was sending personnel out of state for such purposes, the mayor again talked about his daughter.

"You know, I’ve been on a white rafting trip," said Bloomberg. "I went down the Rogue River with my daughter years ago. It’s the last time I went whitewater rafting or probably ever talked about it."

There was another follow-up.

"Mr. Mayor, you spoke of the need for surveillance to secure freedom and liberty. The Muslim community feels it’s being surveilled a lot more than any other communities," said a reporter.

"Well I don’t know how anybody would know that," countered the mayor.

"Well there’s no indication that you’re in synagogues and churches," the reporter said.

"Isn’t that what you would want?" said Bloomberg.

"You are in churches and synagogues as often as mosques?"

"I didn’t say that," said Bloomberg. "You said that."

The mayor's press secretary, Stu Loeser, interjected to point out that in the '70s and '80s, the NYPD conducted surveillance on groups like the Jewish Defense League and organizations affiliated with the Irish Republican Army.

Then the mayor jumped back in.

"The police department goes where there are allegations, and they look to see whether those allegations are true," he said. "That’s what you would expect them to do. That’s what you want them to do. ... You have your job because there were young men and women who’ve been giving their lives overseas for the last 200-plus years, so that we would have freedom of the press.  And we’d go after the terrorists. And we’re going to continue to do that. And the same thing is true for those people that work on the streets of our cities."