Feeling Safe in Post-9/11 New York


After an incident of mass underage drinking, my grammar school’s traditional Eighth Grade Ride on the Circle Line Ferry became my grammar school’s traditional, abundantly chaperoned, Eighth Grade Stay at a Dude Ranch in Upstate New York. I missed out on this tradition, however, as post-9/11 paranoia cautioned school groups against traveling across bridges or through tunnels even ones leading to the Mid-Hudson Valley. This was May, 2003, but New Yorkers were still teetering on and off high alert. It had been close to two years since the attacks on the World Trade Center, but with this renewed vigilance came renewed fear, and as my class walked three Queens blocks over to our Eighth Grade Lunch at TGI Fridays, I found myself becoming anxious. The next day, we saw our Eighth Grade Mid-morning Screening of Holme, and it wasn’t until the previews ended, and the film began, that I was able to forget the nagging dread that terrorists might be plotting to blow up the theatre.

In retrospect, it seems ridiculous me thinking my teacher had cleverly arranged for the showing during off hours, so as to deceive the terrorists into thinking no one was in the theatre, my school evacuating because someone placed a Coke can, with a quarter taped to it, on a pay phone across the street, and a passerby assumed it was a bomb but the understanding was that it is better to be safe than sorry, no matter what the cost. Though that initial panic is settling itself further into memory with each passing year, discussions on public safety throughout the nation, particularly in New York City, are as heated as ever.

According to the newest Marist Poll, 56 percent of New Yorkers are worried about another terrorist attack in the city, as reported by the New York Daily News on Friday. Certainly, April’s failed car bomb attempt in Times Square, a sobering reality check for Fordham students amidst the annual Spring Weekend festivities has awakened old anxieties in many residents. The MTA is making significant budget cuts, reducing the amount of employees present in stations who are capable of seeing something and saying something, provoking commentary from vigilante Guardian Angel Curtis Sliwa. While vigilante crime fighting is an extreme that is, like the Patriot Act, rather undesirable albeit much cooler it does seem to be true that when people feel their safety is threatened, they are willing to forgo quite a bit of what they usually hold in high regard.

As a student living in New York City, I appreciate the precautionary measures. The bag check stations can be a hindrance when rushing to catch a train, and my awkward glancing between police officer and the ground, in an attempt to seem inconspicuous, always makes me feel more suspicious than I have any reason to be. When I see multiple officers at a station, I assume that some emergency has occurred, but of course that is rarely the case. A large police presence is always unnerving for me, conjuring up memories of times of threat, disaster movies, and parades. But I appreciate the presence. They are a comfort to me. They serve as a deterrent. At the very least, they are a reliable source for directions. I am painfully aware that the odds of a random bag-check catching someone with sophisticated mal intent are not stacked in straphangers favor. But I am also aware that they can and do prevent little bad things from happening every day.

I realize that Fordham University, as a private educational institution, is held to wildly different expectations than the government, but I tend to feel about the city’s safety measures the way I feel about our dorm security policies. I hate that my ex-roommate, who had to go and be an RA in another building on campus, would have to register a guest pass 24 hours in advance if I wanted to spend the night for a movie-marathon. I mean, my goodness, I’m a resident! And it is true that if some large-scale emergency were to occur, there is little that our paper trail could do about it. That said, our crime rate is very low, and I enjoy the peace of mind, even if it comes at the price of some petty annoyances.

Friday evening, I dined beneath those twin beams of ethereal blue light. Also beneath them were tour buses puffing their way past scaffolding and flickering neon signs, while trendy twenty-somethings celebrated the city-wide Fashion’s Night Out. Did I feel safe? No, not actively. But I didn’t feel unsafe either. I felt somber, yet energized, encapsulated by my city by that pulsing vein that never forgets, never slows down, and never stays scared.