Holding the 9/11 Trial Without Destroying Chinatown

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Taxis and cars pile up past Canal Street.

    Mayor Bloomberg deserves praise for reversing himself on whether the trial of five 9/11 suspects should be held in New York, only blocks away from the Twin Towers they allegedly plotted to destroy. 

    And President Obama and his Attorney General seem to be listening to the mayor. Obama has asked that other sites for the trial be considered outside of the city.

    When Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama first declared that they wanted the trial held in the federal court in New York, Bloomberg said: “It is fitting that 9/11 suspects face justice near the World Trade Center, where so many New Yorkers were murdered.”
     
    But two months have passed and it has become clear that holding the trial at the Federal Courthouse in Foley Square will do devastating harm to businesses in the area and to the lives of thousands of people who live in this densely populated neighborhood.
     
    Now, to his credit, the mayor has pulled back. He says the trial should not be held in New York City, that a more secure location, like a military base, would be less disruptive and less costly. “My hope is that the attorney general and the president decide to change their mind.”
     
    And now, Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-Calif.] thinks the situation has changed and, she told MSNBC, “I think the administration should listen to the mayor, listen to the mayor’s concern and, candidly, make a change.”
     
    Chinatown is less than half a block away from the federal courthouse. The trial is bound to cause great disruption on the bustling streets of Chinatown, where restaurants and stores abound. When a trial takes place, the police will have to put a tight cordon around  this neighborhood.
     
    Holding the trial can cause “great disruption” in the lives of thousands and “it will also have a great cultural impact,” said Stanley Mark, a lawyer for the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. There are three funeral homes on Mulberry Street, a few feet away from the courthouse, says Mark, “and the Chinese community in this city and from other places along the eastern seaboard use these facilities and depend upon them.”
     
    I have walked along the narrow sidewalks of Chinatown when funeral processions  -- with music provided by a suona, an oboe-like instrument, drums, cymbals and gongs -- passed by. These ceremonies have special meaning and harming them seems to be the antithesis of defending American values. The funeral homes are able to give special respect and attention to the various religions Chinese-Americans bring from China.
     
    “I can’t trade my civil rights for someone else’s” says Jan Lee, a businessman who resides on Mott Street, the 5th Avenue of Chinatown. “Our funeral homes provide the only shred of tradition when they bury someone…They provide the link to our past.” 
     
    After 9/11, much of the commerce of Chinatown was crippled by the closing of Park Row. That’s likely to continue when the city government builds a new park in Chatham Square this summer. Construction of a water tunnel from Worth Street to East Broadway also is scheduled for the same time.
     
    Lee says: “My family have been property owners in Chinatown for three generations. What’s happening now is a perfect storm---the destruction of small businesses, traffic congestion and the destruction of our neighborhood.” 

    New Yorkers -- especially the residents of Chinatown -- are hoping the White House and the administration will heed their pleas and move this trial out of town.