Thousands of tourists each day travel to Battery Park in lower Manhattan to buy ferry tickets for the Statue of Liberty. Many are imbued with patriotic fervor recognizing Lady Liberty as the symbol of American exceptionalism. Some consider it a site to behold, an entry way to the nation. Others buy their ferry tickets because the statue is on the itinerary.
When these folks enter the park they are flanked by dozens of hawkers, most are Senegalese selling knock-off Prada and Louis Vuitton pocketbooks; others are selling faux Rolex watches. They wait for the tourist buses on the north side of the park in plain view of the police. What they are selling is clearly illegal; moreover, many are illegal immigrants. Yet this practice has been going on for years uninterrupted by the authorities.
Yet that is not the worst of it. Unbeknownst to most of the peddlers and all of the consumers is that the revenue from this ostensibly illicit, but seemingly innocent trade, ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations.
The National Security Agency has been tracking this practice for some time well aware of the pernicious dimensions of this Battery Park commerce.
When I asked the Park Rangers if they were aware of what is going on they looked at me quizzically as if I were besotted. The local police contend that since the periphery of the park is federal land, they do not have jurisdiction over park matters. It turns out of course, that this isn’t entirely correct since the park itself is managed by the New York City Parks Department.
It is ironic that those coming to see the symbol of American liberty should be providing funds for organizations that want to destroy that liberty. Since the sales go on unabated, how is the consumer to know?
This is all happening several blocks from the World Trade Center site. In fact, the damaged dome that stood between the towers now stands as a permanent memorial for those who lost their lives on 9/11.
But the outpouring of patriotic sentiment after 9/11 which has encouraged many Americans to visit the perpetual flame in Battery Park, has been converted into a venal anti-American funding source. It is certainly horrible that a presumptive ally of the United States like Saudi Arabia is providing funds for al Qaeda, but it is an order of magnitude worse when patriotic Americans are being gulled into supporting terrorism at the very moment they wish to express national loyalty.
What can be done? First, it is imperative that police look into this matter instead of passing the buck. Second, this issue deserves publicity; these peddlers with knock-off products can be found in many other locations in New York and even on the streets of Rome, Paris and London. Third, fines can easily drive this trade out of business.
Surely some women may lament their inability to buy a fake Prada bag for $50, but they won’t sleep soundly if they know that money is being used to kill Americans and other innocent victims around the globe.
I should hastily note that most of the peddlers do not know what they are involved in. They are simply out to make a buck. In some sense, they are like the “mules” recruited to bring cocaine into the United States in pouches hidden in their stomach lining.
However, innocent or naïve they may be, their activity isn’t innocent. It is a threat to our very existence and it goes on as if it were a sale day at Macys. The police avert their gaze; the Park Rangers do not understand the issue and the consumers want a bargain.
This daily activity goes on within the shadow of Lady Liberty. No wonder I’ve noticed, when gazing at her impressive frame, that she has a tear rolling down her cheek.