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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 14:37 GMT
New York: City on edge
Police officer and solider at security checkpoint
Checkpoints are in operation throughout the US
Jane Standley

It's been shocking to see police checkpoints on New York's famous Broadway.

And at the entrances to Manhattan's tunnels and bridges.

I've found it even more of a shock to be wandering out of the apartment building where I've been living for four months for a late night walk with my two dogs - and to see police beacons lighting the street, and officers stopping cars and questioning people.


I have spent years in war zones crossing checkpoints and that is where they belong in my mental scheme of things

Probably because it is so close to home.

It may sound a bit silly, but it sends a shiver through me - not only because this is outside my own front door for now, and like other New York City dwellers I don't feel as safe as I used to.

But also because I have spent years in war zones crossing checkpoints and that is where they belong in my mental scheme of things.

War zones

Of course a nasty checkpoint in say Congo, or Sierra Leone, full of gun-toting teenage rebels or troops of what passes for a government army, is quite different from answering a few relatively polite questions from the officers of New York's finest.

Over the past few weeks, I've thought of the Rwandans, Bosnians, Angolans, Somalis, and many other nationalities, I have met over the years

But it is the familiarity - and yet the strangeness of the sight - which bothers me.

I came to New York for a respite from wars, conflict, suffering and death.

Yet in the past few weeks I have relentlessly done something which I had hoped for a while would not be part of my daily journalistic bread and butter - talking to people who are beside themselves with grief, whose lives are shattered.

I had hoped that, for a while, I would no longer leave them weeping, turning away with my own eyes full of tears too.

And now - following the crash of American Airlines flight 587 - there are more people brutally bereaved in this city which is so hard hit, so blighted.

This week, I spent a cold evening in Washington Heights, in the northern reaches of Manhattan, the home of New Yorkers from the Dominican Republic.

Wreckage of the American Airlines crash
The Queens crash killed several 11 September survivors
At a community centre in this battered, rather run down neighbourhood, friends and family members of the victims lit special candles beneath the flag of this small Caribbean nation, and prayed for deliverance from their pain.

Like many people in this city they were asking: "How much more can we take? What happens next?"

Forty-one Dominicans were lost in the World Trade Center. Many others escaped, ran for their lives.

But some of the survivors of the 11 September disaster have now been killed in the crash - people say it seems hard to know how to stay safe and alive here now.

Fragility of life

It is this all too obvious fragility of life which is disturbing many New Yorkers.

On the city's subway, people are quiet and nervous nowadays.

Their faces fall when the barely comprehensible buzzing tannoy system announces "a delay to this service, due to police action on the line..."

Post-attack, and post-anthrax in the mail, New Yorkers are jittery.

These people deserve our sympathy and our support.

But so do the millions of other people, all over the world, who have lived with such misery, such suffering for many years, and with little attention from anyone else.

Gound zero
The attacks have left New Yorkers insecure and afraid
And it must be said (though it is not comfortable for people to say or hear) from the average person in this city.

Over the past few weeks, I've thought of the Rwandans, Bosnians, Angolans, Somalis, and many other nationalities, I have met over the years. I have seen some of their faces again.

They were not on the radar screen here, their sufferings not widely known, or cared, about.

Yet now their fear, their insecurity, their worries - "What will happen to me, to my family, what will happen today, or tomorrow?" - are the same emotions felt, the same questions asked by the people of New York, my new neighbours.

I've also thought of Kenya - my home for three years - and my 12 friends - Africans and Americans - who perished in the bombing of the US embassy there in 1998.

And I have been shocked and upset when New Yorkers have said to me they barely paid attention to that wake-up call.

It was so close to me, but not to them. They heard little about it on the news, it seemed so far away then.

The family who live next door to me is Israeli - Dov and Shula. Their three beautiful little girls are the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.

But their parents could not stand living with fear, with insecurity and, they say, with intolerance and little chance of proper debate and of peace at home.

So they came to New York. But now like everyone else they feel afraid.

It has come here too they say, it has followed us. It has.

I feel the same, though I left behind different fears and insecurities.

Common humanity

But the message is the same - we are all vulnerable, it is our common humanity.

And, as Dov and Shula say, perhaps out of this we can learn to care for each other more, to try to resolve the conflicts and end the suffering of people everywhere - in Angola and Somalia - so we can all rest easy again.

It would be good, wouldn't it?

And then the checkpoints - on Broadway and in Congo and Sierra Leone - would go away.

I and everyone else would not have to live with them anymore.

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 ON THIS STORY
Jane Standley
"I came to New York for a respite from wars, conflict, suffering and death."
See also:

16 Nov 01 | Business
New York business counts the cost
16 Nov 01 | Americas
US orders Airbus A300 tail checks
14 Nov 01 | England
NY firefighters honoured in London
10 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Ground Zero 'vision of hell'
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