Downtown Dispatch: Fear and Anxiety Grip Lower Manhattan as It Braces for the Terror Trials

Emotions bubbled to the surface in lower Manhattan this week. Neighborhood activists lambasted Eric Holder's decision to hold the KSM trial in the shadow of the World Trade Center site.
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It has been eight years since the horrific attacks of September 11th, but emotion and anxiety are still raw in the Lower Manhattan community. The impending trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) has caused anxiety and fear in the Lower Manhattan community as some residents decry the risk of a potential terrorist attack during the trial and the onerous security measures that the surrounding neighborhood will undoubtedly face.

In early January, the public will have an opportunity to vet their feelings about the trial being held in Lower Manhattan as the local Community Board (which I chair) weighs a resolution either supporting or opposing the trials being held here. While our vote is merely advisory, it has an important, symbolic purpose. The very community which was so ravaged by the attacks eight years ago, attacks which were inspired by a religious fundamentalist view that our nation's secular freedoms are wrong, will now engage in our own fundamental process of democracy, the opportunity for anyone and everyone to speak out and express their views without fear of reprisal. And this will happen in a place founded as New Amsterdam, by a colony of Dutch exiles, and the city that served as our nation's first capital. It will happen steps from where George Washington took the presidential oath of office at Downtown's original Federal Hall, and steps from where the seat of capitalism, the New York Stock Exchange, was founded by a group of brokers in 1792 who met under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street. As I consider these profound ironies, I find myself inclined to feel that the inconvenience of having the trial here is worth the cost, as the place and the process exemplify everything they hate and everything we love and care about -- basic freedom.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly estimated that the security needed for the trial will amount to $75 million. Many residents in Lower Manhattan say that this neighborhood has already faced the brunt of the attacks. They ask why it should also face the attendant security risks, street closures, barricades and other measures that will undoubtedly be put in place. This week the emotions bubbled to the surface at the Dec. 15 Community Board 1 meeting I chaired. Neighborhood activists took to the podium to lambaste Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to hold the KSM trial in the shadow of the World Trade Center site. Interestingly, some of the most progressive and liberal activists say they do not feel that the rule of law and importance of holding a free and open trial should trump the concerns they have over security. Ironically, they side with many Republicans who argue that the trials should be held in military tribunals, despite the fact that these tribunals have only successfully convicted three terrorists since 9/11, and could not in six years bring KSM to justice. In contrast, the federal courts have successfully convicted over 195, many of whom are now housed in federal prisons throughout our country.

I wrote previously that I believe the trials should be held in Lower Manhattan federal courts and enumerated the reasons why. I agree with Congressman Jerry Nadler, who states: "It is fitting that they be tried in New York, where the attack took place. On that day almost 3,000 innocent men, women, and children were murdered, and New York has waited far too long for the opportunity to hold these terrorists responsible."

Despite my personal view that the trials should be held in the federal courts, and not in secret military tribunals, it is an absolute imperative that the Lower Manhattan community be given the proper protection. I couldn't agree more with those who worry what this will mean for Lower Manhattan.

This community has already faced so much grief, as well as the anxiety of being next to a site that still tops the terrorist target list. The New York City Police Department should meet with the Community Board and local residents and business people immediately to outline what security measures they will take to protect the neighborhood. Residents at our meeting this week eloquently spoke of playgrounds, streets and businesses that may need to be shuttered, if the security that currently exists regarding the WTC site or New York Stock Exchange are any guide. We can expect metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, vehicle checkpoints, street closures, snipers and other security. As much as I believe the trial should be held in Lower Manhattan, the security concerns are valid. The impact to the community is real and while security is of paramount importance, the effects on the community have to be considered and mitigated.

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