Osama bin Laden is dead. And Americans are celebrating. At the White House, an impromptu rally drew thousands of good citizens chanting: “USA, USA.” At Ground Zero the throngs draped themselves in the flag, popped the bubbly and waved makeshift signs that said "Rot in Hell" and "Vengeance at Last." And now, a day later, people are still in a celebratory mood, as T-Shirts pop up all over New York City that say "Obama Got Osama!"
I can certainly understand the sentiment.
I was at Ground Zero on 9/11, as a journalist, covering the attacks and their aftermath for ABC News. I returned for days and weeks, as the rescue mission became instead about recovery. We then pursued the story of al Qaeda for months, and I continued to cover the fallout, even after I left ABC and moved to Court TV – with coverage of the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay and all of the challenges for America that have arisen from that single day.
For me, however, the story was not just a matter of professional responsibility of the highest magnitude – it was also deeply personal.
I grew up downtown, in the shadow of the Twin Towers. A child of Lower Manhattan, my earliest childhood memories are of visits to the construction site with my father, an architectural engineer. My parents still live there. Forty-five year residents of the same Mitchell-Lama housing development on the East River, they were among those who fled in the white ash. My mother says she still finds dust in hidden corners of their apartment - ten years later. Of course, we knew many people who were at Ground Zero when those towers fell.
So I understand the desire, the need, perhaps even the compulsion to celebrate. But it is time to check our collective selves. It is time to regain our composure. And, truth be told, we must also steel ourselves for the possibility of future attacks.
Osama bin Laden is dead; but al Qaeda is not. And the ways in which we Americans conduct ourselves in the days and weeks to come will forever color the perception of America on the world stage. The death of Bin Laden calls for Americans to engage in quiet contemplation, somber reflection and a studied awareness of how we will be perceived by the outside world at this historic moment in time.
Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.