It Was A Perfect Autumn Afternoon…
Our New York-based editor writes…Clear and crisp with just a little chill in the air, like fall is supposed to be, a break from the extended summer we’ve been experiencing up until now. (I promised not to politicize this, so I’ll just say “who knows why”?)
I had to go to Brooklyn from my apartment in Manhattan. It’s a trip I do with some frequency, almost always by bicycle. The fastest way actually, is to fight my way across town on local streets and over the utilitarian Manhattan Bridge. But when I walked outside and saw this beautiful day, something told me to ride down the bicycle path along the Hudson River and then over the majestic Brooklyn Bridge instead. I hopped on a Citibike, the great, though unfortunately named bike-share program in New York (very often pedestrians yell “f*ck you, Citibank” at me, as if my being on a bicycle instantly transforms me into a bank), and headed off.
Past the Meat Market, the big dredging project on Christopher Street, the dog park, the pier/parking lot where my nephew plays baseball on the roof. It was a good bicycle, a smooth ride. My thoughts were in other places as I turned off onto Warren Street and over to the Brooklyn Bridge.
I’m not sure when it became a must-do for tourists to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, but now it’s always teeming, even on bad weather days, which is why I usually avoid it. Today was no exception, and I grumbled and yelled and dinged my bell at dozens of distracted visitors sashaying into the bike lane.
In the end, I made it just fine. Just like any other day.
On my way back, I started receiving an enormous number of emergency alert signals on my phone. I stopped and looked: “police activity”, “unplanned street closures” — the city never really tells you exactly why. Then I started hearing sirens in lower Manhattan as I approached. And saw police vehicles whipping around corners and careening down streets at disquieting speeds.
Someone outside the CVS said there was “a shooting”. I checked news feeds on my phone. Someone had run down and killed a bunch of people on the exact stretch of bike path I’d chosen to be on just a short time before. Looked like a terrorist. Probably a “lone wolf” because that seems to be the way it’s done these days. 8 people were dead. Anywhere from 11-15 injured depending on the source.
Although I could hardly call it a close call, I felt shocked and stunned in a way I hadn’t in years. My neighborhood is an extension of my home, my routine. I returned to my apartment by a different route. I sat, numb. My dog sensed my shock and came over and gave me his favorite toy. At that point I broke down. For the first time in years.
Not out of despair. Just a realization that the world is really rotten these days. And I felt fortunate, and selfish. Because I will be around for at least one more day. And also because even though the world is really rotten it’s still great. And no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always been a New Yorker, and I’m proud to be a New Yorker. And no matter who you are or where you’re from: if you’ve got friends, or family, or even pets around, it doesn’t take much to realize how precious life really is. But fragile.
And I thought of the 8 people, and the people around them who need those connections more than ever.
I Am Not Afraid. I Am Defiant.
More than ever. But it’s hard to be defiant when the enemy is invisible. On the other hand, you can’t just throw up your hands. I have incredible confidence in New York police. I think we are incredibly well-protected from terrorist acts. (This was a really busy day for police to begin with, with the annual Halloween parade, which despite the massive investigation very nearby, went off without a hitch).
Nevertheless, New York is about strangers. That’s never going to change: and that comes with risk, and also opportunity. We interact with strangers all the time. Sometimes argue with them. Sometimes even fight. We don’t tend to kill each other. If I didn’t want to be part of that I wouldn’t be here. I certainly would never get on a subway. Defiance of awful and devastating acts like those we saw today, can only come from embracing strangers, the unknown, even with the knowledge that the unknown, maybe, possibly, could be an enemy. More interaction is better. Defiance is rejecting the notion put forth by some of the powers that be: that you should be afraid because there’s nothing you can do on your own. They alone can keep you safe.
OK, Since I Already Started, Let’s Politicize This For A Second
I really didn’t want to do this, but for some reason I came across President Obama’s message first, and was so heartened by it: “New Yorkers are as tough as they come“. Because in that moment, that’s what I needed to hear: “It’s OK. You’re doing a good job.”
Then I looked at President Trump’s Twitter feed. “Thoughts and prayers“, of course. And this:
Have some empathy, man! You’ve shown some real affection at times for the city you grew up in (even though we have never really loved you back, except when you fixed the skating rink). It didn’t really help in the moment to inform us you’re going to take the attack and tuck it into your agenda.
Trump’s Tweets this morning continue on that theme: a blistering attack on Democrats, particularly Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, whom he seems to singlehandedly blame for allowing the terrorist into the U.S. “A Chuck Schumer beauty“, and saying “I want merit based” (which seems to be a euphemism for 1) geniuses and 2) people with a lot of money). He repeatedly credits and tags his favorite morning show “Fox and Friends” for generating/reinforcing a lot of these ideas.
The Facts As We Know Them (Without Gruesome Photos)
• The attack was carried out by a 29 year old green-card holder from Uzbekistan named Sayfullo Saipov. He lived in New Jersey and worked as an Uber driver, although it’s not clear where.
• In a Home Depot truck he rented in New Jersey, he enters the bicycle path from the highway that runs alongside it and speeds along for about a mile, running down pedestrians and people on bicycles before coming off and ramming into a school bus. The New York Times has an interactive map with the exact route.
• After he jumps out of the truck, he brandishes what appear to be two firearms, but police later said they were a paintball gun and a pellet gun.
• Saipov is shot by police, but captured alive, which means we may get some insight into how he became radicalized.
• Uzbekistan is a former Soviet Republic, not particularly known for fostering radical Islamic views. However, a Federal Prosecutor in Brooklyn recently charged five men from Uzbekistan with providing material support to ISIS. The New York Times speculates Saipov may have been known to the FBI, and perhaps in connection to that case.
• Although the city has still not released the names of the 8 victims, the Embassy of Argentina says 5 of them were former classmates, visiting New York as part of a high-school reunion trip. A 6th member of that reunion group was injured, but survived. A Belgian woman was also killed.
• Many roads in downtown Manhattan remain shut down this morning.
Three Other Items, Very Briefly
- Doesn’t look like Republicans in Congress will introduce their tax deal today, as promised.
- Obamacare open enrollment starts today. (Spread the word, because the President sure won’t).
- And this fascinating story in the New York Times about a key player on Robert Mueller’s legal team.