Volume 22, Number 31 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 11 - 17, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Corky Lee
Kai Huie, 7, and other Chinatown residents joined a rally at Foley Square Saturday calling for the 9/11 terrorist trials to be moved out of Lower Manhattan.
Chinatown activists press fight to move terror trials
By Julie Shapiro
Chinatown residents vowed this week to keep fighting the decision to put the 9/11 terrorist trials in their neighborhood.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is unlikely to change his mind on the trials’ location, and several local elected officials are urging the residents to focus on getting compensation for the expected inconveniences rather than continuing to protest.
But the 50 people who turned out to a town hall meeting Monday night say the fight is just beginning.
“We have to demand action now,” said Triple Edwards, a Chatham Green resident, drawing applause from the people gathered in his building’s basement. “We have to raise the roof and make a lot of noise.”
The noise started two days earlier, when about 1,000 people rallied under a cold rain outside the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl St., where accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is slated to be tried. The crowd included many residents of Chatham Towers and Chatham Green, the two large residential buildings just a block away.
The residents are worried for both their safety and their quality of life.
“This is going to be a horror show,” said Carolyn A. Harley, a resident of Chatham Green since it opened in 1962. “It’s going to be a police state here.”
Harley lamented that local elected officials do not seem interested in trying to reverse Holder’s decision. U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler supports the trial venue, as does Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Borough President Scott Stringer have not fought the location, though they say they want residents’ concerns to be addressed.
But Councilmember Alan Gerson and Councilmember-elect Margaret Chin, who will be replacing Gerson at the end of the year, both encouraged residents to keep protesting the location this week.
“It is a mistake and it should be rectified,” Gerson told residents Monday night. “It’s clear federal officials were not thinking about you, in terms of the security risk and in terms of the logistics nightmare.”
Gerson suggested holding the trial on Governors Island. He also said that the venue could still legally be changed to an area outside New York’s Southern District, though he acknowledged politically it looks unlikely. Even while residents continue to protest, Gerson encouraged them to compile a list of things they want from the N.Y.P.D. and the federal government, since a lot of money will be flowing into the city for the trial preparations.
Jan Lee, a member of the Civic Center Residents Coalition who helped lead Monday’s meeting, suggested a 24/7 kiosk on Park Row where residents could go for support during the trials.
Money could also help keep residents’ insurance premiums down. Toby Turkel, former president of the Chatham Towers board, recalled being dropped by insurance companies after 9/11, and then seeing her premiums go up by 700 percent.
Lee has spoken to lawyers about taking legal action, and one possibility would be to request an injunction against insurance companies to keep them from raising rates.
Al Grotell, who has lived in Chatham Towers for 42 years, said he is afraid not just of the terrorists but also of the police snipers that many people expect to be posted on nearby rooftops. Danny Chen, a Chatham Green resident, recalled seeing snipers on Police Headquarters after Councilmember James E. Davis was killed at City Hall in 2003.
“It was a scary experience,” Chen said. “You might not get killed by a terrorist bomb; you might get killed by a friendly bullet.”
Jean Grillo, a Tribeca resident and Democratic district leader, was one of the few people at Monday night’s meeting to support the trial location, although she did not speak. Grillo said she came to hear what her Chinatown neighbors had to say, and after the meeting she said she still thought the trial should be held in a public courtroom in New York, near the scene of the crime.
But she also recognized the inconveniences and dangers that could cause.
“Because they’re going to be put to such tremendous duress,” Grillo said of the nearby residents, “they should be tremendously compensated.”