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New York struck by terror again. But like always, the city rose up to heal on Halloween

Soumya Shankar | Updated on: 1 November 2017, 16:22 IST
Soumya Shankar

Nowhere is the speed of recovering from a tragedy so rapid, and the healing so profound, as in New York. A city marred repeatedly, yet unscathed, New York emerged from the shadows of what is being described as the deadliest terror attack since 9/11 at a pace that is both awe-inspiring and alarming.

Megacities have their own rhythm of recovery. Mumbai witnessed this after the deadly terror attacks in 2008. But nowhere in the world can the scene switch from real-world horror to theatrics within the radius of a few miles west and a couple of blocks north.

At 3 PM on Halloween day, a driver rammed a truck down a crowded and much-beloved bike path along the intersection of West Street and Chamber, killing eight people and injuring 11, before running along the street shouting “Allahu Akbar”. He was then shot by a police officer.

The neighborhood, which is populated with schools that were just dismissing for the evening Halloween celebrations, witnessed a horror that could only be paralleled to the globe-shifting tragedy that occurred twelve years back, at the World Trade Centre, just five blocks off the intersection.

This evening, children dressed in costumes huddled with parents as they witnessed streams of passerby shouting “run, gun!” Most thought it was a Halloween prank – a trend New York prepping for the annual downtown parade is known for – until they heard gunshots.

Eighteen-year-old Fatima Juti, a resident of Queens, who goes to the Stuyvesant High School next door described the scene of horror as it unfolded before her eyes –

“We were going to have a Halloween party this night and were just talking about that when my classmates who were sitting next to the window started screaming. I heard gunshots and saw from the window, people lying on the street. A van was smashed. I saw two dead bodies as the police covered them with white robes. We were speechless.”

Patema, another student, clad in a hijab is standing quietly as a few journalists draw ready connections between the attacker’s religious affiliation and his psychopathic deed.

“We heard a gunshot and then we heard cops. We were told to stay inside, calm down and not to make a scene. As a Muslim, I get this all the time, Islam doesn’t condone killing. I’m so dumbfounded and shocked. As a new-income student, you don’t want to see stuff like this in your neighbourhood. As a true, real Muslim, I don’t believe someone following Islam could have done this,” Patema said.

Soumya Shankar

The attack came in the wake of a growing push to add bicycle lanes to crowded streets. Jessica Wrestler, a middle school teacher, taking the train home that evening commented – “It’s a really scary and an unfortunate incident, it’s terrifying after the city went through so much effort in making safe bike lanes for bikers to use that this incident should happen.”

The train this evening was especially packed. But not everybody who was going downtown was headed back home after another heavy workday. The train was teeming with commuters dressed in Halloween costumes en route to witness the historic annual Halloween day parade, a city event that has drawn, in good years, crowds up to two million.

While some New Yorkers remained undeterred by the act of terror that was unleashed downtown, others were visibly perturbed.

Lisa Starkman, another Queens resident, expressed her fear thus –

“I know there’s a Halloween parade tonight and my first thought was I don’t want to go. We shouldn’t cower in fear when these things happen. But for me specifically, I would be too scared to go.”

Holding on

One of the revelers at the Halloween parade (Soumya Shankar)
Soumya Shankar
Soumya Shankar
Soumya Shankar
The Freedom Tower is seen in the distance as people in costumes take part in the 44rd Annual Halloween Parade in New York on 31 October 2017, just hours after several people were killed and numerous others injured when a suspect plowed a vehicle into a bike and pedestrian path in Lower Manhattan. (AFP PHOTO/ANGELA WEISS)

The annual Halloween parade in NYC has been warming 31 October nights since 1974. It was seven weeks after 9/11 when the then Mayor Rudolf Giuliani insisted that the village parade take place as a healing event for New York City. That year, the world watched in awe as the centerpiece of the parade shone in the middle of Greenwich village – a giant Phoenix rising from its ashes.

Sixteen years since, and another attack down, New York reveled in full bloom – zombies, giant floats and Donald Trumps alike – as thousands marched in their favourite costumes across Sixth Avenue. The indomitable spirit of the New Yorkers reflected in love for the festival as much as it did as a mark of protest and a defiance to cower down to “those people”.

Miguel Armasa, a Bolivian market analyst and now New Yorker for six years, summed it up while jostling for space on the train while en route the parade –

“These are times when New Yorkers really come together. I’ve seen way more positive messages on social media today about people willing to help rather than panicking. I think the incident will be on everybody’s mind but a lone psychopath should not be able to bring the city to a standstill. In that case, they’re winning. And we can’t allow that.”

The 44th annual parade began at 7 PM at 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village. Millions walked, in true Gotham spirit – gays, feminists and conservative religious groups alike – the latter ironically, or perhaps rightly, spreading the message of the lord on the darkest night of the year.

The New York Police Department (NYPD), sprung to action as it bolstered protection to the merrying crowds.

“We have plenty of resources. The NYPD is in a position to maintain order at both the parade and the incident spot. I’m confident that NYPD is armed to make sure everything runs smoothly,” said an official.

It is not just New Yorkers that carried steel in their nerves. In her mid-70's, Felicia Baroush from Texas traveled all the way from the southern state to the big city to witness the annual extravaganza.

“For adults of all ages, you can be a kid for one night. These are things you cannot do in Texas, where I’m originally from. We do have Mardi Gras but this is something totally different. I spent two months collecting items to dress up tonight,” Baroush said.

The question about the ethicality of the parade unfolding miles from the attack venue made her grim – “We heard about the incident when some family and friends from the south had texted us.”

There was silence and then an emphatic announcement – “Unfortunately, these things happen everywhere, and no one could live if we just stopped at every horrible incident that happened in the world today.”

Others were far from dampened. “That’s not such a nice thing to talk about now. This is our favourite holiday!” exclaimed a member of the Fogoazul NYC, a feminist group that put up a spectacular display of drumbeats choreographed to dance.

As a rite of ceremony, the police did not allow plain dressed people to join the march, as they huddled selfie-struck and cheering, in thousands across the streets between Spring and West 14th.

The spirit of Halloween was only accentuated by Christian groups proselytising their own version of what could have occurred further downtown.

Andrew Martinas, as he held the banner of the Christ Forgiveness Ministry explained thus, “I’m not gonna blame Halloween for it (the incident), but, you know, on Halloween there are cults that take it upon themselves to cast spells and sacrifice.”

The Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps Marching Band that has been a part of the annual event for forty years made a statement last year when they boycotted, for the first time, the Presidential Inaugural March after Donald Trump was sworn in, choosing to march instead at the enormous Women’s March on 21 January earlier this year.

Tim Hanesse, pacer of the Band had other reasons to draw ominous markers to distrust the fated day of the attack, said, “As a gay man and an American citizen, I get concerned that it happened so close to the parade and on Halloween day. This could well be a signal.”

As for the city that doesn’t sleep and doesn’t stop, he had this to say –

“I was here during 9/11. New York prides itself for not stopping its business and life for terrorist attacks or any kind of attack. The stock markets opened the day after 9/11. New York doesn’t stop for this kinda stuff.”

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 1 November 2017, 12:35 IST
Soumya Shankar @shankarmya

A correspondent with Catch, Soumya covers politics, social issues, education, art, culture and cinema. A lamenter and celebrator of the human condition, she hopes to live long enough to witness the next big leap in human evolution or the ultimate alien takeover of the world.