Here in New York, we remember 11 September in all its complexity

So much of American life changed in the moment the planes hit the twin towers – and in the months and years after the attack, writes David Taintor

Thursday 09 September 2021 00:00 BST
Around 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, including more than 400 firefighters and emergency responders
Around 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, including more than 400 firefighters and emergency responders (Getty NA)

President Joe Biden last week ordered the declassification of documents relating to the investigation of the 11 September terrorist attacks. It was, in part, an acknowledgment that families of the thousands of New Yorkers who died are still grieving and seeking closure two decades later.

An anniversary is an opportunity to take stock, especially one as significant as 20 years. The images of 9/11 are still seared into Americans’ collective memories, whether we witnessed the events from Manhattan or Minneapolis – from shocking pictures of desperate New Yorkers leaping from the upper levels of the World Trade Centre to chaotic scenes of dust-covered first responders racing to the scene. Classrooms across the country (including mine) ground to a halt; office workers gathered around TVs in collective horror; law enforcement beefed up security at other high-profile buildings and sites across the country, in fear of another assault.

So much of modern American life changed after the attacks. Security measures that are now commonplace – full-body scans at airports, metal detectors at sports stadiums – were previously unimaginable. Anti-Islamic prejudice in the US has hardened and even deepened over the past two decades. The percentage of Americans who believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence has doubled since March 2002, from 25 per cent six months after the attacks to 50 per cent today, according to the Pew Research Centre. That’s especially significant when you consider that March 2002 was almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. 11 September has a long shadow of a legacy.

Today, 39 prisoners remain detained in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, a notorious facility that has become synonymous with the United States’ sometimes extralegal approach to the “war on terror”. Some remain detained without even facing formal charges, unsure of when or if the US will ever wind down the facility in the southeastern corner of Cuba. Various politicians, including former president Obama, have paid lip service to doing so, but the prison remains open.

The Independent has worked hard over weeks and months to report on stories of survival, solidarity and heartbreak. This week, we will commemorate the anniversary by putting the voices of those affected front and centre: the harrowing calls between families moments before the planes crashed into the towers; the forgotten anti-Muslim hate crimes in the days and weeks that followed; the families who are still grieving loved ones lost too soon; those who have reconnected with strangers who helped them out of the debris on the day.

Every year in early September I’m struck by the bright blue skies as summer dissolves into autumn, just like the morning of 11 September 2001. It’s a reminder of how easily a veil of serenity and security can be shattered – and how the world continues, even after terrible things have happened.


David Taintor

US News Editor, New York

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in