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Justice, yes, but . . .


In Colorado, one often encounters a license-plate-looking bumper sticker touting the driver’s “NATIVE” birth in the state. In some parts of the world, not even natives are considered part of the community. Sometimes it takes many generations to be accepted; sometimes even that is not enough.

New Yorkers are different. We figure that, if someone actually WANTS to come here, he or she is at least as entitled to be called a New Yorker as is a native.

We’re different in other ways, too. Well into my second half-century of life, I have yet to own either a home or a car, and, in that regard, I’m pretty typical.

We know subway origami — how to fold The New York Times in such a way that we can read it while standing cheek to jowl in a crowded subway car and not fall down as the train jerks to a stop. We eat things others would rather not even hear about. And we change instantly in the presence of an emergency.

During the transit strike that began on New Year’s Day in 1966, New Yorkers who otherwise wouldn’t even have looked at each other (a technique offering personal space in a crowded environment) shared taxis and stopped their cars and limousines to offer rides. During the two big power blackouts, every street corner had at least one person with a flashlight directing traffic. Volunteers have been running supply operations near the World Trade Center disaster site for two weeks.

Now, New Yorkers — even those with loved ones among the victims — don’t seem to be interested in revenge or retaliation for the horrible attack of September 11. We’d like the perpetrators brought to justice, but the thought of “collateral damage” is appalling.

A story in The New York Times suggests that this is not something unique to our character as New Yorkers but rather to our presence in the city that was attacked. We have seen the destruction. We know the victims. We cannot want to bring such horrors to any other innocent people.

In 1920, a bomb in the New York City financial district killed 35; the prime suspect was an Italian anarchist. In 1975, a bomb at LaGuardia airport (the second deadly bomb of the year in New York) killed 11; it was planted by Croatian nationalists.

We hold nothing against Italians or Croatians. We hold nothing against Puerto Ricans, though bombs set by them have also killed in New York. There are Italian New Yorkers. There are Croatian New Yorkers. There are Puerto Rican New Yorkers. And there are Afghanistani New Yorkers.

I’ve mentioned before that our mayor has been doing a superb job of managing the emergency. Our governor has not.

From the outset, he has been calling for retaliation. At yesterday’s memorial at Yankee Stadium, he told New Yorkers to write the mayor’s name in when they voted in tomorrow’s primary election, despite the fact that it would be illegal for the mayor to be elected again, something decided by the people of New York twice. Fortunately, today the mayor told voters not to write him in.

There has been a lot of singing of “America the Beautiful” lately. Few people know the words to more than one verse. Here’s the end of the second one:

“Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!”

TTFN, Mark