Matthew A. Thomas: Say Something When You See Nothing

An active shooter in Virginia Beach killing a dozen coworkers and seven coordinated suicide bomb attacks on Easter in Sri Lanka killing 258 have something beyond the tragic loss of life in common.  There was nothing that tipped off workers, worshippers and vacationers of the impending attack.  In each case, some unremarkable people, unremarkably stood close to others and carried out their horrific rampage. 

There are always clues:  baggy clothes concealing weapons, lack of eye contact, sunglasses or hats with brims pulled low.  However, surprise attacks only occur when people are surprised.  In order to surprise, the persons involved- their behaviors and their appearances- are best suited for attack when they blend in and keep from drawing attention to themselves.  In other words, often, there is not really anything to see.

A common plea today from law enforcement is if we see something, we should say something.  Great advice.  More of us should do more of that.  If there are cues or clues or anything suspicious, we are now encouraged to refrain from polite distance.  We should not respect private space if public safety is at risk.  Safeguarding someone’s private space is no longer viewed as important as safeguarding humanity.

But, how did we get to the place where we need to tell people to report observable anomalies in the first place?  The fact is, especially with global urbanization, we do not see much of anything to say something about.  That is because we now live in a world filled with distance in proximity.  The world is filled with crowds of the invisible.  We are closer, physically, to people than ever before and yet farther away relationally from people with whom we literally rub shoulders than ever before.  We pay less attention because we are too close to too many people too much of the time.  The crush of urban populations has placed us closer to people than we have ever been and less aware of our neighbors.

I have experienced this first-hand all over the world.  Whether it is in a Japan or Hong Kong subway during rush hour, the Elephanta Festival at the Gateway of India in Mumbai, anywhere near Quiapo (Manila) during the Procession of the Black Nazarene and in Times Square or Yankee Stadium on a holiday, the crowds can be impressive or depressing depending upon your outlook.  I have seen crowds that visually affirm the idiom, “a sea of people.”  Privacy is impossible.  Security is laughable.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Matthew A. Thomas