News & Politics

New York 9/11 'Tribute in Light' Called Off on Account of Coronavirus

Tribute in Light 9/11 (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

New Yorkers wrestling with a global pandemic, rising crime, and riots in the streets may look forward to the annual commemoration of the Big Apple rising up after a devastating terror attack. Every September 11 since 2001, twin towers of light have adorned the city’s skyline, sending a message of hope and remembrance in the face of a terrorist attack that shook Americans to their core nearly 20 years ago. Yet this powerful message in light will be absent from the skyline this year, ostensibly due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tribute in Light, the world’s beloved twin beams of light, will not shine over lower Manhattan as part of this year’s 9/11 commemoration,” the 9/11 Memorial & Museum announced on Thursday. The museum’s leadership explained that they reached “this incredibly difficult decision… in consultation with our partners after concluding the health risks during the pandemic were far too great for the large crew required to produce the annual Tribute in Light.”

Pathetically, the museum leaders added, “We hope to resume this iconic tribute for the 20th anniversary.”

While the twin towers will not light up the New York skyline, the museum has partnered with buildings throughout the city, asking them to light up their facades and spires in blue to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11.

Although it seems the museum could just flip a switch and shoot up the twin towers of light, the 9/11 tribute actually takes more than a week to set up, according to the Municipal Arts Society of New York. In 2011, the process began on September 2 and continued until dusk on September 11, when the powerful beams of light shot four miles across the sky, visible for 60 miles around. A crew of 30 electricians, lighting technicians, stagehands, and production assistants installed, arranged, calibrated, and tested 88 refrigerator-sized 7,000-watt xenon searchlight bulbs. Workers have to wear eye protection and special gloves just to handle the powerful lightbulbs.

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While the 9/11 tribute does require a crew of 30 people, it seems this set-up would not pose nearly as great a risk for the spread of the coronavirus pandemic as, say, a mass gathering of George Floyd protesters or pro-transgender protesters.

Indeed, Gov. Bill de Blasio (D-N.Y.) has faced lawsuits from Catholic priests and Orthodox Jews, castigating him for allowing and even encouraging these humongous protests while shutting down religious services.

“Why is a large worship gathering deemed more dangerous than a mass protest, full of shouting, arm-waving people in close proximity to one another?” Christopher Ferrara, a special counsel at the Thomas More Society, said in June. He said coronavirus lockdown orders “clearly discriminate against houses of worship” and “are illegally content-based, elaborate, arbitrary, and pseudoscientific.”

In one particularly egregious example, the New York Police Department pushed Jewish mothers and their children out of a public park for violating coronavirus restrictions — while they allowed massive crowds of protesters to gather as protests devolved into destructive riots.

It seems likely someone in New York City’s leadership — perhaps Mayor Bill de Blasio himself — encouraged the 9/11 Memorial and Museum not to light up the “Tribute in Light” this year, to send a message about the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet they consistently send the opposite message by refusing to treat protesters the same way they treat religious gatherings.

It seems rather likely the electricians and production assistants who set up the annual 9/11 tribute could wear extra protective gear — they already have to wear eye protection and heavy gloves, after all — in order to protect themselves from potential exposure to COVID-19.

The New York skyline won’t be lit up with the twin towers this year, and it seems rather likely the motivation behind depriving Gotham of this hopeful symbol is political.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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