Though I typically stayed in hotels in Midtown, I just happened to be staying in TriBeCa the week of May 1.
When I landed at LaGuardia, the president had already made his announcement about the death of Osama bin Laden. I turned on the TV as soon as I got to the hotel room. MSNBC was showing footage of college-aged people gathering in a celebratory fashion in front of the White House, and Brian Williams was reporting that people were also gathering at Ground Zero. When I realized that I was less than a mile from the site, I felt a responsibility to go and check out what was happening (even though it was past 12:30 at night at this point).
I don’t know what I was expecting – a vigil? a rally? a media circus? but I knew I should take advantage of being there.
First, here are the Facebook posts I wrote when I got there:
12:50 am: I walked down to the WTC site to see what is going on. A crowd has taken over the street but NYPD is trying to keep it from getting any bigger.
1:11 am: I made it to the crowd by going around the block. It reminds me of a mosh pit.
1:13 am: People are chanting various things, including “USA”, “NYC”, and “Yes We Can”.
1:17 am: There seem to be a few 9/11 families but mostly college age people (of which more than a handful are drunk).
1:17 am: Cigars are being smoked.
1:20 am: Some guys were singing “Proud to be an American.” Now it’s stuck in my head.
1:21 am: The police are losing their barricade battle a few yards at a time. They’re doing their best to keep things contained.
1:50 am: Unlike the kids partying on the street in front of the WTC site, I have to get up early tomorrow and go to work. Hope you enjoyed my attempt at social media journalism. =)
To fill in a few things: when I got there, the corner of Church and Barclay was barricaded off, and the police weren’t letting anyone pass. I tried to go around to the west, but that wasn’t the right way to go. I finally went back and to the east, and found that people had gathered on Church and Vesey. When I was leaving, the NYPD had taken down the barricade at Church and Barclay, but were trying to prevent people from walking down that block of Barclay altogether.
There wasn’t much media there when I got there, but by the time I left, I saw journalists in the middle of the crowd, interviewing people. There was a news van parked on Vesey when I left (I’m not sure which network it was… perhaps local).
It didn’t seem to me that the crowd had much purpose in being there – as though people had heard the news and just decided they needed to be with other people. There was really no focal point to the crowd, and even the chants seemed to occur spontaneously from various areas.
I didn’t get good pictures, because it was dark, and – let’s face it – I was shooting with a BlackBerry. But I tried to take some video, and this video turned out okay enough to give a sense of the situation.
There was an Op-Ed in the New York Times a few days later that I felt did a good job of explaining why groups gathered at the WTC site, at the White House, and elsewhere.
There was quite the media circus a couple of days later when Obama came to visit.