Osama is dead — and so is her silent protest

Osama is dead — and so is her silent protest
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Red Hook’s famed Osama bin Laden sign is finally down for the count.

Since 2003, Coffey Street resident Cheryl Stewart’s front yard has doubled as a polemic against the Bush Administration, with a strident marquee tracking the number of days that the world’s most wanted man remained free.

“Nine years 232 days since 9-11-01: Where is Osama bin Laden?” the sign’s last update wondered.

On Sunday, Stewart, 48, got her answer along with the rest of the world when President Obama announced that bin Laden had been killed in a heavily fortified bunker in Pakistan.

“I’m elated,” Stewart said. “To me, this is a criminal justice issue. This man is a mass murderer, and I am always happy when someone flouting the law has been brought to justice.”

She installed the sign — which tracked the accumulating days of bin Laden’s freedom in blood-red letters — in 2003, after Bush “beat the drums of war with Iraq.”

“But the one person who actually attacked us was laughing his ass off at us while we spent our resources attacking his enemy.”

That angered Stewart, a sculptor by trade. “I felt very helpless, so the only thing I thought to do was ask this very important question than no one else was asking. And I asked it every single day.”

Stewart said she didn’t lose anyone close to her during the terrorist attacks.

“What I lost were 3,000 neighbors. I lost the city as I know it — and I took that very personally,” she said.

The quixotic silent sentinel has long been a city-wide curiosity.

“I always thought that sign is what makes Red Hook, Red Hook,” said resident Christopher Hammett. “Now, we’ll have to do something else.”

Stewart is a self-described rabble-rouser — and also one tough cookie. A car on Van Brunt Street slammed into her on April 11 while she was riding her motorcycle, shattering 18 bones. She finally returned home this week.

“I’m glad to be here taking down that sign,” she said.