Paterson’s top cop: No, Muslims didn’t celebrate 9/11 in our streets, either
It's a "truth" of the Internet Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale has no truth to it.
No, he says, Muslims weren't celebrating in the streets of Paterson after 911. There were no firecrackers. No burning flags. No crowds cheering.
"It was all somber," he said. "We lost people in the City of Paterson. That's what that day was about."
Speziale — who at the time was chief of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department, and who was campaigning for sheriff in Passaic County — said "the real concern was retaliation against Muslims that were not responsible for it." It's a concern he said has been raised in community meetings over the last few weeks after deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, in the northern New Jersey community with the second-largest Muslim population of any municipality in the united states.
Speziale's comments come after Donald Trump's repeated assertions that “thousands and thousands of people” in Jersey City cheered on 9/11 as the Twin Towers of the World Trade center collapsed. The comments have been widely refuted by other leaders (Chris Christie, for instance, says he doesn't remember anything like that), and searches by multiple media organizations of news reports at the time can find no evidence to back up Trump's claims.
But the belief of celebrations in nearby Paterson is a persistent one. Most publications addressing Trump's comments mention rumors of celebrations in Paterson at the time being denied by police shortly after.
The assertion about Paterson is repeated online over and over as unquestioned fact, mostly by blogs deeply critical of Muslims, such as BareNakedIslam.com, which wrote a post about a 2013 Palestinian American Day celebration, saying, "Amid Palestinian (and Hamas?) flags, Patterson celebrates ‘Palestinian American Day,’ bringing to mind the way the Palestinians celebrated 9/11 in the streets of Patterson back in 2001."
There's no supporting evidence of such celebrations in 2001 cited or linked there.
And in response to a New Jersey 101.5 Facebook post Monday, linking to a story describing Trump's claims as unsupported, hundreds of people said they were sure they saw Muslims in America celebrating after 9/11 — many saying they saw it happening in Paterson.
Some said they saw TV reports or read newspaper accounts, though PolitiFact, in a report Sunday evening, said after an “exhaustive search of newspaper and television transcripts" it couldn't find any aside from a Sept. 18, 2001 Washington Post report saying some people were detained and questioned after they were "allegedly allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.”
The Post story includes no source, and no follow-up story says the allegations were substantiated. The Associated Press at the time described the allegations as unfounded, and a Sunday fact-check column by the Post itself describes Trump's statements as "outrageous" and untrue.
Others pointed to statements from friends or family. Some simply said they remembered celebrations happening, but it wasn't clear if they were saying they witnessed celebrations themselves or learned about them elsewhere.
But many of those leaving comments on New Jersey 101.5's Facebook page also said they saw celebrations with their own eyes.
"I had my business on Pennsylvania Ave in Paterson, N.J. I saw people on Crooks Ave. and Main Street cheering and raising Middle Eastern flags," Mark Siegel wrote. "I'll tell you exactly where I was. I had stopped in at Biggs bagels on crooks ave by the railroad tracks. I was wondering why all these crazy people were cheering. Find out a few minutes later America was under attack. I saw it with my own eyes. I witnessed pure evil. Donald Trump is right."
"I am not a Trump supporter, but I distinctly recall seeing video of people (Muslims), celebrating and cheering in the streets of Paterson, NJ in the aftermath of the WTC attacks," Joseph Oneill wrote.
Speziale said those people are flat-out wrong.
"People can repeat it all they want — that is absolutely false," he said.
There were news reports of people burning flags and holding anti-American celebrations in several Muslim-majority countries, including the Palestinian territories. Those were widely aired on TV in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The media was going form the World Trade Center, then to the Middle East, then to the Muslim communities in NJ," Speziale said. "Could one make the assumption and say, 'I just saw someone burning flags' and think it was America? Yes, I guess."
Speziale said he knows "so clearly" that celebrations didn't happen.
"I was in the streets. I was there. There were no reports. Zero. Not one. Zero reports," he said.
But every few years, Speziale said, he's asked about the rumors by someone: "We've been through this time and time again. That some have assumed it or thought it or perceived it — it never happened. This did not come close to happening."
"There were for years, meetings after 9/11 with the Muslim community," he said. "They were helping us, having community meetings to figure out how they can help. This wasn't a community that was dancing in the street. Muslims were killed in the World Trade Center as well."
In a series of Tweets Sunday, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop called Trump's claim “absurd” and said his city “doesn’t want to be part of the @realDonaldTrump hate campaign — we aren’t about that.”
George Pataki in a Tweet said he didn’t know “what luxury spider-hole @realDonaldTrump was hiding in on Sept. 11, but I saw Americans come together that day.”