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Graduate from CUNY School of Law in Long Island City becomes first Muslim-American to serve on NYPD oversight committee

Muhammad Faridi is the first Muslim-American to serve on the NYPD’s Handschu Committee and he recalled his time as a cab driver that led him to CUNY Law School in Long Island City. (Photo courtesy of the Mayor’s office)

Feb. 28, 2023 By Bill Parry

When Muhammad Faridi emigrated to the United States from Pakistan when he was 7 years old, he understood early on that to succeed in his new country, he would need to master the English language. This determination led him, at 18, to take a job as a cab driver so he could listen to CDs and improve his language skills.

Faridi said he had a life-changing moment when he gave a ride to a former U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, who, through the course of the cab ride, inspired him to become a lawyer, a path that led him to the CUNY Law School in Long Island City.

On Feb. 21, Faridi was praised by Mayor Eric Adams as he was appointed the only civilian on the NYPD’s Handschu Committee, which regulates One Police Plaza’s policies and practices regarding the investigation of political activity. Faridi becomes the first Muslim-American to be appointed to the panel, in a city with a population of over a million Muslims.

“The independent civilian representative on the Handschu Committee plays an important role in ensuring that Americans from all backgrounds are treated fairly and equally under our nation’s laws,” Faridi said. “The representative is charged with monitoring police investigations relating to sensitive matters, including those relating to political activity and terrorism, and reporting any abuse of civil liberties to the NYPD commissioner and the federal judge assigned to the Handschu case. “I am honored that Mayor Adams has selected me for this role. I look forward to working with all constituents of the Handschu Committee in ensuring that there is transparency and fairness in some of the most important work that the NYPD does to keep our city and country safe.”

The mayor recalled his own experience when he was a Lieutenant in the NYPD, he was under surveillance by his own police department after he was the co-founder of 100 Black in Law Enforcement.

“I was under surveillance by the Police Department for a substantial period of time. And it came out in federal court that I was being followed by the department that I was a part of,” Adams said. “I advocated on behalf of making sure Handschu was doing its job correctly. And I heard from many of my Muslim brothers and sisters during the time that people were going into their mosques that they were following them. There were things that I thought were done that were improper. And I spoke out against that as a police officer because no one should be targeted or focused on merely because of their way of life, their religious belief or who they are.”

Faridi is a partner in the litigation department of the law firm Patterson Belknap, and he devotes a substantial part of his legal practice to pro bono work, including the representation of refugees, death row inmates, and children with disabilities. Last April, Faridi was appointed to serve on the mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary, entrusted to help ensure the judicial nominations to criminal and family courts, as well as interim appointments to civil court, of candidates with the highest qualifications and from diverse backgrounds.

“We welcome the appointment of Mr. Faridi as the independent civilian representative to the Handschu Committee,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell said. “We look forward to working with him to strengthen community relations, ensure further confidence in the NYPD’s intelligence gathering processes, and keep our city safe.”

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar lauded the mayor’s decision.

“As the first South Asian woman elected to the New York State Office and chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Diversity in Law, I congratulate Muhammad Faridi on becoming the first Muslim American appointed to the Handschu Committee,” Rajkumar said. “Mr. Faridi is eminently qualified to serve on this critically important committee that ensures our civil liberties and religious freedom.”

CUNY Law School Dean Sudha Setty delivered remarks during the City Hall announcement.

“Muhammad is a wonderful, devoted lawyer and servant, and as the dean of CUNY Law School, I get to thank him for his work with the law school, for giving back to us and our community at the law school foundation, for being a thought partner and generosity of mind and spirit with what you do,” Setty said. “And I am sure that those are the qualities that you’ll bring to this important crucial work that the Handschu Committee is doing.”

CUNY professor of law Ramzi Kassem is currently on leave as he serves as a senior policy advisor at the White House as a national expert on immigration and national security issues.

“The civilian representative position is an important feature of the protections from NYPD surveillance,” Kassem said. “As an accomplished and reputable attorney hailing from the same Muslim communities that bore the brunt of police spying in our city for decades, Muhammad Faridi is an inspired choice as the next civilian representative. I look forward to working with him.”

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