Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Anne Kornhauser

Second Advisor

Matthew Vas


NYPD, Demographics Unit, Police Surveillance, Handschu, New York, Counterterrorism.


This thesis explores Handschu v. Special Services Division, an ongoing federal class-action suit brought by New York activists in 1971 to challenge the NYPD's right to use covert tactics to monitor them and undermine their political projects. The Handschu plaintiffs originally hoped that the court would find the NYPD's covert activities unconstitutional and would intervene on behalf of all New Yorkers thus targeted. After the conservative Burger Court challenged the pro-activist decisions of the previous Warren Court, the plaintiffs abandoned their ambitious goals and settled with the defendants. The Handschu defendants easily sidelined this settlement in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by convincing presiding Judge Charles Haight to reduce its scope and protections, a change which allowed them to revive and deploy previously banned covert tactics against New York's Muslim population and its activist community. The Handschu settlement has been eclipsed by recent police reform efforts achieved through electoral tactics supported by local mobilization.

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