Free Fall

We Should Applaud the World Trade Center Jumpers, Not Prosecute Them

The authorities are charging the men who parachuted from One World Trade Center. But we should be celebrating them.

Mike Segar/Reuters

Bravo to the three men who defied death where so many perished.

James Brady, Andrew Rossig, and Mark Markovich surrendered to the NYPD Monday for jumping off of One World Trade Center last September. (A fourth man, Kyle Hartwell, was arrested and charged for being an accomplice.) Leaping from 1,000 feet above Manhattan makes the charges of burglary, reckless endangerment, and jumping from a structure almost sound anodyne.

The video of their feat, however, is anything but.

You can’t watch this and not think it’s what people must have seen as they chose suicide over certain death on September 11—one of the most controversial images of that day remains “the falling man.” Accounts from the day recall the sickening thuds the bodies made on impact with the ground.

With the three men’s jaunt last September, the end isn’t sudden and violent but peaceful and almost fun as the man who captures his fall on camera parachutes between buildings and lands daintily on the street.

Thirteen years ago, evil men turned the Twin Towers into crematoriums. Last year, three daredevils reclaimed One World Trade Center for life.

The way they did it isn’t exactly commendable. Breaking the law for innocent reasons is still a crime. The security guards who failed to stop them should be punished, too.

“God forbid it wasn’t somebody else getting in there with real intentions to harm New Yorkers,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

Bratton is narrowly right, but contrast his reaction with that of Richard H. Kuh, the Manhattan District Attorney in 1974.

That August, Philippe Petit snuck inside the original World Trade Center with several accomplices, ran a cable between the Twin Towers, and performed a higher-wire act 1,350 feet high.

Petit turned himself over to police and was arrested for disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing. Then the charges were dropped by D.A. Kuh in exchange for Petit doing a free performance “for the children of the city.”

It’s difficult to imagine Brady, Rossig, and Markovich will receive the same leniency in a city beholden to fear after 9/11. Yes, Commissioner Bratton, these men could’ve staged an attack from 1WTC, but so too could have Petit. For example: Eight years before Petit’s stunt, a gunman in the University of Texas shot 11 people to death from his clock tower perch. The potential for danger in 1974 was no different than it is in 2014; our fear of danger is what’s changed and it started on 9/11.

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That fear has consequences for all of us, not just the daredevils. It’s used to justify mass surveillance, close public places over a “suspicious package,” or slander missing airline pilots as terrorists.

Hopefully, we can let go of this fear as Brady, Rossig, and Markovich did when they leapt. If we can do that, let’s invite them to jump again in daylight so everyone can see what it looks like to be free.