Saturday, February 6, 2010

TRIBECA TRIB Coverage of the press conference - "Move the terror Trials"

Residents to Feds: Make a Decision and Move the Sept. 11 Trials



Residents of Chatham Towers and Chatham Green, on the western edge of Chinatown, rally against the federal governments plan to prosecute accused terrorists linked to Sept. 11 in a courthouse next to their apartments.
Residents of Chatham Towers and Chatham Green, on the western edge of Chinatown, rally against the federal government's plan to prosecute accused terrorists linked to the Sept. 11 attacks in a courthouse near their apartments.
For almost three months, a growing coalition of Lower Manhattan residents has been pleading with the federal government to abandon its plan to hold trials for five suspected terrorists linked to the Sept. 11 attacks in a Downtown courthouse, mere feet from their apartments.

Emboldened by a recent surge of political support for their cause, the group assembled again Friday afternoon to demand an answer from federal officials planning the trials.

“The true cost of the terror trials will be on the backs of people who live and work here,” said Jeanie Chin, one of the group’s leaders. Chin is among hundreds of residents living at Chatham Towers, the apartment complex next door to the Moynihan Federal Courthouse at 500 Pearl Street. The courthouse, on the western edge of Chinatown, is the designated venue for the trials of Khalid Sheik Muhammad and other suspected Sept. 11 terrorists are to be held. 

“We are the people who did not bow to terrorism, and chose to stay here after 9/11,” Chin said during a rally held Feb. 5 next to a playground in Columbus Park, and across the street from the courthouse. “What about justice for the people who live in Lower Manhattan?”

The rally followed several days of silence from the White House and Department of Justice on what had been widely reported to be a decision to relocate the trials. Last month, responding to mounting pressure from local elected officials and community leaders—including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Charles Schumer—a Justice Department spokesman said the agency would consider alternate locations in the state for the trials. Reports that the Lower Manhattan site had been scrapped entirely were followed by comments by two top White Officials earlier this week that no such determination had been made.

“I’ve seen the [press] reports, but we’ve made no decisions on that yet,” senior White House advisor David Axelrod said Jan. 31 on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Obviously, we need to take into account the concerns of the local authorities in New York, and we will do so.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union” later that day, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also offered no assurances the trials would be moved.

"We understand their logistical concerns and their security concerns that are involved,” Gibbs said. “We have been discussing that with [officials in New York].”

The next day, Deputy Attorney General Gary Grinder told reporters at a budget briefing that the plan for Lower Manhattan was “not off the table.”
Chatham Towers resident Jeanie Chin, one of the rally's organizers, addresses reporters gathered in Columbus Park, across the street from the Moynihan Federal Courthouse.
Chatham Towers resident Jeanie Chin, one of the rally's organizers, addresses reporters gathered outside Columbus Park, across the street from the Moynihan Federal Courthouse.
Since Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled plans to prosecute the accused terrorists in Lower Manhattan in November, residents near the federal courthouse and detention center have warned that their neighborhood would be transformed into a military stronghold. Those fears were confirmed Jan. 19, as Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly laid out key elements of his department’s extensive, $200-million-a-year plan to safeguard Lower Manhattan against the threat of a terrorist attack during the trials. Police officials have devised a security plan for the terror trials that would place the apartment complexes of Chatham Towers and Chatham Green within a highly restricted “ hard zone,” bounded by Worth, Madison, Pearl and Centre Streets.

In an interview with the Trib late last month, Chin insisted that her group’s protests would not stop until federal officials declared unequivocally that trials had been moved. Friday afternoon, with pieces of paper reading “Hard Zone Prisoner” pinned to their coats and waving signs adorned with red bulls-eyes, she and other residents made the first of what they said would be many public stands against the trials’ location.

“We still don’t have an answer,” Chatham Towers resident Danny Chen said during the Feb. 5 rally. “If you were living next to it, you wouldn’t want it on the table. Until we get a definitive answer, we will continue to be here and we will continue to do this.” 

The department’s plan called for the area to be surrounded on all sides by more than 2,000 metal barriers, restricting pedestrian and vehicle access. Sharpshooters would be placed on rooftops to guard against enemy snipers, while assault and canine teams would patrol the ground and police helicopters would constantly hover overhead.

“We cannot have the terrorists’ trials here,” said City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who earlier this week co-authored a council resolution urging federal officials to reconsider the trials’ location. 

“We cannot allow our neighborhood to live through the nightmare of 9/11 and the devastation of our community,” Chin said. “We have to stand strongly and say, ‘No!’” 

Community Board 1 member Marc Ameruso, one of the first non-Chinatown residents to take up the cause of moving the trials, said he was convinced the group’s demands could only be met by its highest authority, President Barack Obama. At the press conference, Ameruso implored the President to side with the residents.

“There’s a human face to this,” Ameruso said. “Look at the people here. Look at the human face of this. Please, Mr. President, get these trials out of New York. Make a decision, already.”

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