Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Today's Tribeca Trib highlights the anger of residents in close proximity to the 9/11 trial location


Neighbors to Terror Trial Fear the Worst

BY CARL GLASSMAN

UPDATED NOV. 18 TRIBECA TRIB


Residents who live near the federal courthouse, behind them, at right. Many live next door in Chatham Towers, the building on the left.
CARL GLASSMAN / TRIBECA TRIB
Some of the residents who oppose the terror trial being held in the federal courthouse, behind them at right. Many live next door in Chatham Towers, the building on the left.
Across the city, lines are being drawn. Many insist it is fitting for the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks to stand trial in Lower Manhattan, close to the site of destruction. Others, citing fears of disruption and danger, call it a massive mistake.

But there appears to be little difference of opinion in the two apartment complexes that stand a stone’s throw away from the federal courthouse where the suspects will be tried, and the Metropolitan Correctional Center where they are likely to be held.


Residents of Chatham Towers and Chatham Green—complexes that together comprise five buildings and nearly 700 units on the edge of Chinatown—are furious over what they see as a threat to their security and the coming incursion of demonstrators, broadcast satellite trucks, and an armed-camp-like atmosphere surrounding their homes. Their anger is fed further by memories of barricaded and militarized streets after the Sept. 11 attacks, and the subsequent closing of Park Row, the main artery through their neighborhood and into Chinatown.


“You can’t imagine the kind of hardships we’ve had to experience,” said Jeanie Chin, a member of the Civic Center Residents Coalition and board member of the 240-unit Chatham Towers. “This is what we are afraid will only intensify after this terrorism trial starts.”


“They could lock down a block and nothing moves,” said Richard Scorce, a member of the board of directors of Chatham Green, 215 Park Row.


One of the two Chatham Towers buildings stands next door to the courthouse, its doors opening onto Worth Street, the only nearby crosstown through street. Residents there believe that their street will be the epicenter for satellite trucks and demonstrations, and envision having to show ID just to enter their homes.


Previous high profile trials, those of Bernard Madoff and Martha Stewart, for example, made life difficult, the neighbors said, Sidewalks were impassable and merely exiting their buildings was a challenge. The trial of the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaik Mohammed, and four alleged accomplices will almost certainly eclipse them.


“When you think of all the people who are going to be there, protestors, and cameras and Al Jazeera—it’s all going to be right there,” said Toby Turkel, the former president of Chatham Towers, referring to what amounts to her building's front yard. “And people who are very dangerous will have access.”


“How are you going to secure a residential area for this kind of trial,” said Nancy Linday, a Chatham Tower resident. "How are you going to do it?”


Asked for comment on the residents’ concerns, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg said details about the security perimeter have yet to be worked out and referred further questions to the New York City Police Department. In a statement, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it was "highly appropriate that those accused in the deaths of nearly 3,000 human beings in New York City be tried here, and the NYPD is prepared for the security required."


In Washington, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand as well as Rep. Jerrold Nadler joined a chorus of Democrats in support of moving the suspects from Guantanamo Bay to New York City.


“We have handled terrorist trials before, and we welcome this opportunity to do so again,” Nadler said in a statement.  “Any suggestion that our prosecutors and our law enforcement personnel are not up to the task of safely holding and successfully prosecuting terrorists on American soil is insulting and untrue.”


But closer to home, the decision, announced on Nov. 13 by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, was criticized by some local representatives, including City Councilman Alan Gerson and City Councilwoman-elect Margaret Chin.


Chin said in a statement that she has “serious concerns” about the government’s plans. “We already suffer from heavy security measures, including the unnecessary closure of Park Row,” she said, adding that she is worried about the safety of the community.


“Lower Manhattan is already a recognized terrorist target,” Chin said, “and I hope appropriate steps can be taken to keep those of us living near Ground Zero and the Federal Courts safe.”


Julie Menin, chair of Community Board 1, said in an opinion piece in Huffington Post that she supports the government’s decision, calling it “imperative and absolutely appropriate that Mr. Mohammed be tried in the shadow of the World Trade Center site.”


The board’s vice-chair, Catherine McVay Hughes, disagrees.


“Why does this happen in the most densely populated area of the country,” said Hughes, who is also chair of CB1's World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee. “If security is an issue it could easily be taken somewhere else.”


Those who will be living near the trial could not agree with Hughes more. Still angry over the barricades outside their windows on Park Row, they insist the neighborhood has already reached its limit with security.


“Just take it elsewhere,” said Nancy Linday. “Give Chinatown a break.”


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