On September 11th, 2021, Americans joined in respect, but not on Roosevelt Island

On September 11th, 2021, Americans joined in respect, but not on Roosevelt Island

It was September 11th, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of an American tragedy. Across the nation, in countless ceremonies, people joined together in respect and remembrance. But not on Roosevelt Island, where competing parties staged a pair of divisive spectacles.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Left to right: PSD Chief Kevin Brown, RIOC Board Member Michael Shinozaki, RIRA President Rossana Ceruzzi, RIC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes.

Early Saturday morning, a ceremony co-sponsored by RIOC and the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) drew a crowd of sixty, split roughly in half between residents and state employees.

Somber and simple, the first September 11th event inexplicably sought successfully to exclude residents. In a string of duplicate emails and social media posting, they blamed the Delta coronavirus variant. But it was strange because, as competing ceremony organizer Matthew Katz complained, RIOC showed no such restraint toward other recent events.

Residents Association President Rossana Ceruzzi placed flags around the 9/11 Memorial Tree. Standing by were 17 uniformed PSD officers.

RIOC, Cool and Perfunctory. And embarrassingly brief…

The state agency, for example, inspired larger, maskless events like the Hope Memorial opening and their outdoor movies, in recent weeks.

RIOC failed to address the contradictions, but it wasn’t the only gaff.

“A full schedule of the tribute will be made available this week,” they promised repeatedly in email blasts and social media. But they never kept that promise.

And weirdly, at the end of every email, they added, “We look forward to your participation in this poignant tribute.”

After discouraging exactly that.

Chief Brown and President/CEO Haynes conferred before each spoke briefly.

The Daily learned that RIOC initially planned a larger, public event, but opted for this stripped down event after plans for a concert in Four Freedoms Park fell through. In the end, it was more like a RIOC photo op than any sort of tribute to the fallen on September 11th.

Starting on time at 8:30, Haynes, then Brown, who read the names of locals lost twenty years ago, spoke. But when they finished, it was only 8:40, six minutes shy of the announced nationwide moments of silence. At 8:46 a.m. on 9/11/2001, the first plane struck the World Trade Center.

Unprepared with anything to fill the gap, Brown shrugged and asked for two minutes of silence anyway. Well ahead of the rest of the country. The disrespect was mind-boggling, even from RIOC.

Matthew Katz entertained during the alternate 9/11 event. Photo by Anthony Moran, posted on Facebook.

September 11th, 2021, Part Two

“Our event, which is centered on community members’ remembrances, not flags and wreaths, will take place at the Memorial, conceived and built by RIRA 20 years ago…”

That snarky comment from Matthew Katz, quoted by the Roosevelt Islander, signalled dissatisfaction with an email from Haynes.

“I thought it might be appropriate if the two organizations (RIRA and RIOC) combined forces this year to offer the community something approaching our earlier efforts to honor the residents and special ops firemen that we lost.”

It was unclear why Katz, who served as RIRA President on September 11th, 2001, tried speaking for the group in 2021.

Haynes answered. “RIOC will acknowledge this important day, commemorating those lost, by lowering all flags at half-staff and participate in the nationwide moment of silence at 8:46 AM, led by Chief Brown and our PSD department.”

It did not appear, at that point, that Haynes planned on attending in person, but he did.

Haynes’s response sparked a heated response from Katz, announcing a competing event. No more than a couple dozen residents attended.

One Community, Divided

By the time RIOC’s cool and Katz’s frustrations closed out a disappointing September 11th, 2021, for Roosevelt Island, absences discolored the day.

First of all, over 11,000 Roosevelt Islanders were denied a viable local gathering. Divisions were obvious but made more so by the absences.

A generously estimated two-dozen showed up for the evening event. Photo by Anthony Moran, posted on Facebook.

At neither event did NYPD or FDNY make an appearance. Small crowds huddled together, but children never played a role. RIOC’s perfunctory exercise failed to include more than a single board member, and only a minority of its well-paid executives attended.

Were any elected officials even invited?

And if Katz really wanted a community event, why contact RIOC so late, well after plans were in place? And under what conditions did he assume Residents Association leadership?

RIOC’s divisiveness and isolation always plays a role, one that leaves the community out. But splintering the community from within earns special notice.

By the time, September 11th, 2022, rolls around, our best hope is for new leadership and less self-promotion. It takes special gall to turn this day inside out and make it all about those of us still here, not the victims of that extraordinary violence.

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