Residents Of Paterson, N.J. — Home To Terror Attack Suspect — Brace For Backlash

Nov 3, 2017
Originally published on November 3, 2017 2:41 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tuesday's terror attack in Lower Manhattan has cast a shadow over a city across the Hudson River, Paterson, N.J. That's where the suspect lived with his wife and children. As NPR's Joel Rose reports, this is the latest blow to Paterson's image.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: In the hours after the attack, police swarmed the blocks around the suspect's apartment in Paterson, and this gritty, working-class city of about 145,000 people braced for another round of unwanted attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And Katie (ph), we are live on the property of the apartment building that the suspect lived in with his family. You can see...

ROSE: This has happened in Paterson before in 2001 after some of the September 11 hijackers were found to have spent time here and again during the most recent presidential election when then-candidate Donald Trump claimed without proof that he'd seen Muslims in New Jersey celebrating when the Twin Towers fell. So this week feels all too familiar to longtime residents like Ziyad Abu Hodba (ph), who's lived in the area for 30 years.

ZIYAD ABU HODBA: For Paterson, it's no good for nobody. This guy is - he deserve worse than what they're treating him.

ROSE: The Paterson area has one of the largest Muslim populations in the country, and community leaders say the city shouldn't be defined by the actions of one man.

OMAR AWAD: This is not Paterson. The scene that we're seeing on TV right now is not Paterson and will not be Paterson.

ROSE: Omar Awad is the president of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, one of the biggest and most visible mosques in the area. It's not where the New York suspect worshiped. Still, Awad says the mosque received multiple death threats this week.

AWAD: We got a total of - close to eight calls. We actually just got another one earlier today, a fax. They've been a traumatizing experience just to hear them - and then hearing them, the conversation. I'm going to get you. I'm going to kill you. I'm going to burn your center down. I'm going to take your - excuse my language - your effing beard off and stuff that is extremely, extremely vulgar.

ROSE: Local businesses are bracing for a backlash as well. In South Paterson where the suspect lived, the commercial streets are lined with restaurants, bakeries and shops that cater to immigrants from across the Middle East. Mehmet Alkurt owns the Antepli cafe, where he serves his own brand of Turkish desserts. Alkurt says it's been a bad week for restaurant owners.

MEHMET ALKURT: The police officers all over the places, and because of that, the people - they didn't go out too much. That's why it affected the business.

ROSE: But Alkurt's cafe is busy. Jamie Phillips (ph) is sipping tea and sharing a plate of baklava with friends. She doesn't think this latest attack will hurt Paterson in the long run.

JAMIE PHILLIPS: I absolutely don't think it's bad for Paterson's image. This is one individual's actions. It has no bearing on what the people of Paterson represent. We're a very diverse community with a lot of rich culture. Everyone here is just very welcoming.

ROSE: Down the street, one new business is getting ready to open its doors.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSE: Amir Kasim (ph) is opening Cherimoya Farm (ph), an upscale produce market that will specialize in hard-to-find items for the Arab-American market.

AMIR KASIM: Fresh pistachio, fresh almond, sour plum, just kind of stuff not much people knows about it.

ROSE: Kasim was born in Yemen and lives in Brooklyn. Kasim he says he doesn't know much about the neighborhood, but he believes in the future of Paterson enough to open a store here. He says come back next week for the grand opening. Joel Rose, NPR News, Paterson, N.J.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE'S "EITHEROR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.