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Ground Zero attracts Americans celebrating peace, retribution

By Jory M. Heckman, Staff Writer

News of Osama bin Laden's death Sunday night drew crowds to Ground Zero, bringing closure to some New Yorkers a decade after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Emotions ranged from excitement to somber reservation, sending mixed signals to the crowd of passersby at a site still heavy with memories.

According to Brian Beckley, a jazz musician from Seattle, the U.S. should not look on Bin Laden's death with any joy, but simply acknowledge it as the necessary course of action.

"As soon as people started celebrating, then it was just kind of depressing," said Beckley. "The cost just seems to outweigh the end. What did we gain from his death? What real justice is there?"

Beckley backed his point up with a poster bearing John Donne's famous quote, "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

"Some people have been negative, but willing to engage with me," said Beckley, acknowledging his unpopular stance amongst the crowds. "Some people have just yelled insults and walked by." Immediately after Beckley said this, several men began drowning him out with shouts of "God bless America!"

As a practicing Muslim, Beckley was glad President Obama explicitly denied Bin Laden as a religious figurehead. "Osama isn't a leader of Islam, although that kind of leaves room for the idea that there is a leader of Islam, which is a false analogy to begin with," said Beckley. "Islam doesn't have that kind of power structure."

Christopher Hasson, 41, a public school teacher from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, arrived at Ground Zero with a bouquet of red, white and blue flowers to honor his older brother, Joseph John Hasson III, who was killed in the World Trade Center attack.

Hasson considered Bin Laden's death retribution for his family's loss–particularly for his 10-year-old nephew growing up without a father.

"Obviously here, people come to stand on a milk crate and start…speaking," Hasson said euphemistically, standing just a few yards away from Beckley. "That's fine, but it's hard to get some peace and solace. We've come a long way."

For Randy Williams, Colin Marshall and Justin Nagel–a trio marching the American flag down to the Financial District–taking to the streets has become a matter of pride for the state and city.

"They give us thumbs ups, high-fives, applaud, they take pictures," said Williams. "I think everybody knows the significance of what happened."

"They know that we're showing a good, positive vibe," said Nagel.

Though Marshall was happy about the news, his enthusiasm has been weighed down with memories of the attacks. "It [9/11] is always going to be in the back of our heads, but I wouldn't be down here if I didn't feel comfortable."

Americans gathered at Ground Zero Monday after Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, figurehead leader of al-Qaeda, Sunday. (Jory M. Heckman/The Chronicle)

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