"One of the best decisions I had ever made"
- Joseph Lugo
A viral video allegedly exposing a New York Police Department racial profiling incident was put online on October 19 and received more than 200,000 views within three days. Footage showed a NYPD police officer frisking a pair of Muslim men twenty minutes after they changed from Western clothing into traditional Islamic dress.
Four days later, the video called “TrueStoryASA” was revealed to be a hoax.
However, before the video was revealed to be staged, it received coverage from a number of media sources, including The Independent and The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post had called the video “a small glimpse into the ugly world of racial profiling.” The video was also tweeted out by the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as an example of discrimination against Muslims, reported The Huffington Post in an October 22 story update.
On October 21, Comedians Sheikh Akbar and Adam Saleh posted their apology for the video. They revealed that they were the creators of the viral video and their “social experiment” was staged. They claimed that the video was a “dramatization” meant to bring awareness to racial profiling. The also updated the description on their video.
Apparently, Saleh and Akbar were looking for the video to go viral and pile up views. They would then rack up more viewers, as well as get ad revenue.
In the updated Huffington Post article, Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director, condemned the video. He said it was potentially damaging to the Muslim community in that the next time a Muslim calls in a hate crime, other people may claim that it is a fake.
Racial profiling in New York is not a joke. Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the Muslim community has had a complicated relationship with the NYPD. In April 2014, the NYPD finally disbanded the Zone Assessment Unit, the unit that conducted surveillance and mapped New York’s Muslim communities, their places of worship, and businesses they frequent.
In 2013, NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk initiative was drastically reformed after a federal judge ruled that it constitutes discriminatory and unconstitutional racial profiling in Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al. The number of stops has decreased but Muslims still attract excessive attention from the NYPD.
The video may also have been damaging to the New York Police Department which has received widespread criticism for their treatment of Muslims. While many people may have seen and shared the original video, apologies and follow-ups rarely get promoted with the same enthusiasm.
Individuals who are victims of racial profiling should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about their rights.