9/11 Remembrance – A Message from Eagleton Director John J. Farmer, Jr.
September 11, 2019 — Eighteen years ago this morning I was in Atlantic City about to begin the second day of a national conference New Jersey was hosting on improving police-community relations. For most of my tenure as New Jersey Attorney General our state had been struggling with the issue of racial profiling. By September 2001, it seemed we had made real progress in building trust between affected communities and law enforcement. That progress had been reflected in day one of the conference on September 10, when people who wouldn’t even speak with each other a few years before had engaged in candid and civil dialogue. So I was brimming with optimism when I began to walk to the convention center on day two.
Then history happened. The first hijacked plane struck the World Trade Center at 8:46am; that impact caused more confusion than alarm. When the second plane hit at 9:03am, it was clear to all that our nation was under attack. As the chief law enforcement officer of the state that day, and for the succeeding months, I felt inexpressible grief and anger. I felt a sense of responsibility for responding to the murder of 700 New Jersey residents and to this direct threat to our form of government and way of life. Those feelings have shaped my life in the years that have followed.
Today, the threats to our national well being are more subtle, but nonetheless real. Terrorism remains a threat, of course, as do more traditional international rivalries. But I think the rise of domestic terrorism is the most extreme manifestation of a larger threat: ignorance. Unlike most of the world, we are a nation founded not on an ethnicity, but on an idea. Yet, survey after survey has shown that many Americans have forgotten — if they ever knew — that simple fact. Government of the people by the people and for the people is anathema to terrorists and autocrats; it will perish from the earth if the people forget that they need to share a basic understanding of that ideal and of the imperative of civic virtue that its fulfillment requires.
Eagleton has been and will continue to be a bulwark of stability in safeguarding the American ideal against this growing threat. As I remember the chaos of that day eighteen years ago today — seeing Lower Manhattan in flames from the national guard helicopter, the hundreds of wounded being ferried by the state police to Liberty State Park where we had set up a trauma center, the real worry about the threat of another strike — I just want you to know how privileged I feel to be here at Eagleton, where the American ideal of government of by and for the people will always be our pole star.
Professor John J. Farmer, Jr.
Director, Eagleton Institute of Politics