Reports for suspicious activity disproportionately targeted Muslims in Chicago, raising concerns about state surveillance, according to a city-based non-profit.
Muslim organisations are calling for law enforcement to stop using ‘Suspicious activity reports' after an investigation revealed that the people of Middle Eastern descent were disproportionately targeted and racially profiled in Chicago.
Arab American Action Network (AAAN) obtained 235 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) created by the Illinois State Police (ISP) and the Chicago Police Department (CDP) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The organisation said more than fifty percent of the people who were reported for "suspicious activities" between 2016 and 2020 were either Muslims or those with an olive skin tone generally associated with the Middle Eastern people.
AAAN held a news conference on July 1 in the presence of community leaders, law enforcement officials and locals. The report angered Chicago Muslims.
“We will fight day and night to protect our rights,” a group of about a dozen people chanted at Federal Plaza.
The organisation says that is a pattern that was a clear result of the United States’ counter-terrorism steps in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The government established a national network of so-called “fusion centers” to exchange information about terrorism. However, the SARs, the documents created when people report suspicious activity, kept Muslim communities in focus.
Chicago Muslim and Arab researchers argue that these fusion centers and reports lead to criminalision of communities of colour, as they have become tools of racial profiling. The law enforcement reports reveal a disturbing pattern of marking Muslims for simply speaking their native language on the phone, such as Arabic or taking photos.
“These reports show what every person in our communities knows all too well — that our community continues to be treated with suspicion,” said Muhammad Sankari, who worked on the report.
In one incident that AAAN noted, a plumber reported to the police in 2016 that “several Muslims were living” in the house where he attended plumbing problems and that his clients had “several maps” that were marked with flags and had “writings on them in what looked like Arabic.”
Another SARs report was on a man who looked either Hispanic or Middle Eastern for watching people bowl and play video games at a bowling alley.
A concerned citizen warned police in 2016 that two men and a boy, all of whom looked Middle Eastern, were sitting on a bench at a train station during rush hour in two different incidents. One had a black bag.