Friday, July 22, 2005

Inconveniencing and Respecting Life

Since 9/11/2001, the world is not so much a different place, it merely represents a further loss of naivete. Over the past decade, the bombings in Istanbul, Madrid, Atlanta's Olympic Park and Oklahoma City, have chipped away at our collective sense of security. However, 9/11 -- and the recent incidents in London's public transportation system -- have upped the degree to which each of these incidents are able to occupy our consciousness and, in doing so, detract from our overall sense of security.

Most importantly, if we are to embark on our daily lives with the same degree of security as we did on September 10, 2001, we're going to realize -- quickly -- that that's not quite possible anymore. I can't go downtown to view the World Trade Center, unless doing so involves me examining some photographic depiction thereof in the window of some tourist shitbox store on Fulton or Broadway, across the street from an area now known as Ground Zero. Lives were lost, true; and while I knew someone whose life ended on 9/11, the bulk of the reality for most Americans in connection with 9/11 was the imagery absorbed through television and/or from somewhat safe distances throughout the five boroughs.

Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from a friend of mine who had advised me that I should avoid taking the subway for the next couple weeks. Said friend works in the Pentagon and has, on occasion, given me general, sanitized updates as to what's going on behind the scenes in Washington and internationally. He advised me that the NYPD were advised to institute some measure of bag-checks to prevent any similar incidents in New York as had occurred in London. He implied that there was sufficient evidence, thus far, to indicate that what happened in London was also on the menu for New York. Based on his information and the timing thereof, I've come to the conclusion that he's rarely wrong.

So these days, until further notice, each time I board a subway -- depending on which station and the time of day -- I may be asked to show a police officer the contents of my messenger bag. 20 years ago, I might very well have balked at those requests and walked away in disgust. However, several incidents have since changed my mind in response to these requests. First, I was on a plane that was hijacked en route to JFK Airport from St. Martin (we landed in Havana, de-planed, and soon after returned to the plane and returned to the United States). Second, I witnessed 9/11 (on the day of 9/11, I saw smoke pouring uptown on Third Avenue -- as high up as 66th Street, approximately 80 blocks north of Ground Zero -- and the next day, I went to Ground Zero to help at the site thereof). Subsequent incidents have further convinced me of the veracity and the intelligence of the NYPD bag-check: the barbaric rituals which saw Muslim extremists cut off the heads of a variety of foreigners in Iraq and elsewhere (eg Daniel Pearl); the bombings in Madrid, Istanbul, and those in London over the past two weeks.

The world is an unsafe place, and while we as Americans occasionally forget the dangers inherent once we enter a foreign country, they are palpable and growing each day. And because Western nations aspire to freedom rather than control, relatively porous borders have provided terrorists an attractive opportunity to inflict their message in our part of the world.

Back to the bag-check: is it inconvenient to have to pass through a metal detector each time I fly or visit certain key city buildings? Absolutely. Is it intrusive to have a police officer examine the contents of my bag each time I board a train? Sure. Is it in the name of safety and security that these things are in place? Yes.

In reading today's news, I came across this article on CNN's website which portrays some reactions to NYPD's new bag-check policy. There are two especially irritating quotes which I found shocking in their eminent stupidity.

The first:
The New York Civil Liberties Union warned that the new measures violate basic rights and could invite racial or religious profiling. "The plan is not workable and will not make New Yorkers more secure but will inconvenience them as police go about finding a needle in a haystack," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman.

The second:
William K. Williams, a 56-year-old Manhattan resident who rides the train every day, said the searches would frustrate New Yorkers. "Sometimes you need to get to an appointment, you're running late and a cop stops you to delay you even further? That's going to create a mess," said Williams, who was carrying a
briefcase outside the Brooklyn Bridge station of the subway.
Ms. Lieberman and Mr. Williams are two very foolish people.

Ms. Lieberman is so quick to denounce any action that will affect individual rights (which is her duty as NYCLU exec. director) that she completely overlooked the fact that this plan will absolutely make the City and its residents safer. Assuming this plan was not implemented, and a variety of bombings like the ones that occurred in London fifteen days ago occurred in NYC, how many of their fellow New Yorkers would treat Muslim residents of New York with respect and compassion? And how many of said Muslims would be abused verbally and/or physically? Would their rights be well-protected by a populace that would increasingly be paranoid around anyone wearing a turban or a heavy jacket on a packed train in the summer?

Mr. Williams is so busy to explain the lack of convenience inherent in a security checkpoint at the entryway of subways and buses that he overlooked the fact that convenience and security aren't always easily and simultaneously achieved. I have a message for Mr. Williams: next time you opt to leave the area and fly to another state (or another country), decry airport-installed metal detectors and security checkpoints. Suggest to your local representatives and anyone who will pay attention to your ridiculous whine that they are inconvenient. And get to the airport ten minutes prior to your flight's indicated take-off time.


When are people going to realize that freedom comes with a price? I'm not invoking the solemn, somber notes of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, nor am I going to refer you, the reader, to a site depicting the face of each soldier who has been killed in combat defending this nation. However, the notion of increasing our personal safety at a modest, logical price of some measure of inconvenience, seems altogether more reasonable than both Ms. Lieberman's and Mr. William's complaints and assertions to the contrary.

It seems to me that we can't afford to be this foolish nor this naive any more.

1 comment:

LisaBinDaCity said...

I already had a BAD feeling about it only being a matter of time until NYC gets attacked once again by terrorists. London only made it worse. It's very disturbing to hear these feelings confirmed by your well placed friend.

As for checking my bag on the subway... go for it! I would much rather be safe. I don't care how much it might inconvenience me, (or anyone else for that matter.)