Published: July 21, 2004
In general, I agree with Sensing and AL. Profiling doesn’t always work. But that doesn’t mean I’ve never done it…
I was in New York City with my family a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, during the anthrax scare. We’d come in for dinner and a movie, bringing some money into the city, just like Rudy Giulinai asked us to do.
Times Square was crowded but subdued. The kids noticed how hesitant and quiet people were. Photographs of people who were missing in the WTC attacks were still pasted up on walls and telephone posts. The smoky crematory smell wasn’t as strong as it was downtown, but something funereal had settled over Midtown.
My daughter stopped to check out some black and white photographs at an outdoor vendor’s stand. He had a collection of the usual photos of the Brooklyn Bridge, the John Lennon ‘Imagine’ memorial, photos of the World Trade Towers displayed prominently.
The vendor was Middle Eastern – green eyed, light skinned, smiling and joking with his friends. He looked to be about fifty years old, Lebanese. His friend was about the same age. They were speaking in what (as far as I could tell) sounded like Arabic. A younger man, clean shaven, wearing hijacker khakis and an unfriendly expression, watched us carefully. He didn’t say anything and he didn’t laugh. When the vendor turned to us, something about his smile was false. Slowly, I started to realize that these guys were giving me the creeps. I also thought that if you were going to plan for a major anthrax attack in a crowded part of the city, this stand was a very good location.
In general, after 9/11, I believed that we shouldn’t profile Muslims in this country. I figured that they had come here to get away from all of the craziness back home. They wouldn’t bring it with them. I made a point of shopping at our Muslim owned 7/11. Whenever we got takeout, it was gyros & kebabs. I thought profiling was a bad thing, but these men made me nervous.
So, when the kids weren’t with me, I went back to the vendor’s stand. The vendor’s friend and the young man were gone, and his smile seemed more genuine this time. I shuffled through his photos, asked him how long he’d had a stand in Times Square and put my purse in one of the boxes under the table. I asked him if I could take a picture of his stand. He smiled, tolerantly, and let me look under the table to retrieve my purse. I didn’t see any vials of anthrax under there, no gas masks, no big bags of powder marked with a skull and bones – just framed photos. The vendor wasn’t giving off any more bad vibes – he was very tolerant, even friendly. The creepy feeling was starting to dissipate.
From that silly exercise I got a nice, framed black and white photo of the Brooklyn Bridge (only $15) and some peace of mind. Yes, I was profiling, and I was making up loony scenarios, but when someone or something is making you nervous, it’s probably better to find out more about them rather than sitting and stewing in fear.
I have a premonition that something bad is about to happen whenever my kids walk out the door, because I’m an overprotective worry wart. My fears usually dissipate when I find out where they’re going, when they’ll be back, and who they’ll be with. Sometimes premonitions and fears are justified, and sometimes they’re not.
Annie Jacobsen sounds like another worry-wart mom. That’s why I’m glad she wrote this article. As the 9/11 commission pointed out, the passengers on flight 93 were the only ones who reacted effectively to the attack. We need to know more about how airline security works and we need to know more about individual passenger experiences. And we need to know more about these ‘musicians’.