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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Unprotected ... STILL

I got off a Metro-North train at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, just 24 hours after a potentially devastating car bomb failed to detonate in Times Square, less than a mile away. And the visible security presence at the high-profile station? Zero. Zilch. Nadda. No cops. No bomb-sniffing dogs. No National Guardsman. Nothing.

I've commented before in this space about the alarming lack of security at New York City's prime terror targets (bridges, tunnels, theaters, sports venues and, yes, Times Square), but never have I been more amazed - and disturbed - to see such a complete lack of concern for the public's safety as I was Sunday evening.

The people responsible for this lapse in judgment should be ashamed of themselves, and then they should be fired.

... and so should the people responsible for security at Radio City Music Hall - a concert at which was my reason for being in Manhattan.

Just one day after the would-be car bomber tried to commit mass murder on Seventh Avenue, I was allowed into the world-famous theater on Sixth Avenue without so much as a pat-down or a request to empty my pockets.

Moments later, I stood in a lobby crammed with hundreds of people, and all it would have taken was the detonation of a nail-filled bomb strapped to my torso to kill most of them.

But no one bothered to check whether I wearing such a bomb. Unbelievable.

The bottom line here is that I refuse to be scared by terrorists and the threat of terrorism. The fact that I went to New York City on Sunday proves that. But I do expect the people who are paid to protect us to do their job, and near as I can tell, they're not doing anything of the kind.



Blogger derek said...

They're not paid to protect you. That's a fallacy that's been long disproven.

South v. Maryland determined it as a matter of law, a long time ago (1855) that the State doesn't have an obligation to protect individuals, only to enforce the law for crimes after they've been committed.

Put simply, with the Constitutional protections in place, there's no way to stop a truly devoted individual from harming others. Even someone with all the protection of the Secret Service, John F. Kennedy, knew, "Anyone can kill a president. All he has to do is be willing to trade his life for the president's."

If the perpetrator is truly willing to trade their life for someone else's, there's damned little you can do to prevent them with any certainty, ESPECIALLY if you have to live within the Constitutional protections of American citizens.

May 3, 2010 at 10:53 PM 
Blogger Jeremy Schiffres, City Editor said...

So the bottom line, Derek, is that you're defending a pathetic lack of stepped-up security in New York City the day after an attempted terrorist attack.
OK, whatever.

May 4, 2010 at 8:33 AM 
Blogger derek said...

I'm saying that they CAN'T protect everyone, everywhere, in NYC, from every sort of terrorist attack.

So you can spend millions upon millions of dollars protecting locations 1, 2 and 3 against attacks A, B, and C, at which point the terrorists move to location 4 and use attack method D.

The only difference at the end is you've wasted millions of dollars trying to fend off the inevitable.

If the perpetrator is willing to do whatever it takes to make their point, you can't stop them, so wasting money on a false hope that you CAN is just fiscal irresponsibility.

May 4, 2010 at 8:43 AM 
Blogger Jeremy Schiffres, City Editor said...

So your argument, Derek, appears to be "There's no point in trying to stop the bad guys, because they're gonna get us anyway." Yikes.

May 4, 2010 at 8:47 AM 
Blogger derek said...

Having people standing around mid-town with P90s and MP5s doesn't "help stop them". It just makes them move somewhere else.

The society you're describing is called The State of Israel, and lo and behold even with armed soldiers everywhere, and metal detectors at the entrance to every building, and cars being screened before they can get into any parking lot.... suicide bombers still manage to take the lives of people.

So you can either spend money on what we call "Security Theater" -- and still have good people get killed, or you can put those resources towards finding the people in the first place BEFORE they're out in the field with a suicide vest, or a truck full of ANFO, because at THAT point, it's too late.

And, let's not forget that Americans are prone to knee-jerk reactions. When we're at our most fearful is when we're at our most stupid when it comes to letting the government increase its power and authority over its subjects' lives. Can you say "Patriot Act"?

Is it any marvel that the top story coming out after this is about how we should implement the "Ring of Steel" security system, increasing the level of civilian surveillance to Orwellian levels? Even though those cameras that were there, focused on the incident, played very little part in solving the crime?

May 4, 2010 at 8:56 AM 
Blogger Jeremy Schiffres, City Editor said...

Derek, putting terrorism aside for a moment, are you suggesting there's no need for routine police patrols that aim to prevent potential problems before they occur? That cops should only be on the job AFTER crimes are committed? Could that possibly be your position?

May 4, 2010 at 1:44 PM 
Blogger derek said...

Setting aside terrorism for the moment.

I'm not saying it's "my" position, I'm saying that legally speaking, there's no *obligation* of the State to protect the populace. That's been the "law of the land" since 1855.

Now, one can certainly argue that the Court got it wrong there, but like the Slaughterhouse case, that might be precedent which is really tough to "undo" without muddying a whole mess of other territorial waters.

Now, when it comes to "regular domestic crimes" -- burglary, speeding, etc., where there is no "dedicated miscreant who will stop at nothing to do what he's going to do, and is willing to die trying", then, yeah, sure, police patrols help reduce the levels of crime, and add some value.

There's just no legal requirement, or "right" to that "protection" they offer, which seemed to be the crux of your post.

May 4, 2010 at 1:52 PM 
Blogger patricia said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 4, 2010 at 3:15 PM 
Blogger Jeremy Schiffres, City Editor said...

I've enjoyed our back-and-forth, Derek. But at this point, I think I'll let the readers decide which one of us is right. Thank you for reading and commenting. -Jeremy

May 4, 2010 at 3:17 PM 
Blogger Martin McPhillips said...

I meant to comment on this yesterday. Whenever a terrorist gets to the target, the counterterrorism effort is essentially over and has failed. That's not when, or the place where, you want to stop a terrorist plot. You want to get it before it can be initiated.

That said, in a place like Grand Central there could be an awful lot of things you don't see. (And it's important to remember that it is a point of departure as well, where elements of a terror operation could gather to go elsewhere.) I think it would be a safe bet that there are plenty of undercover officers around, and that they are directed from a security surveillance center that looks very carefully and very quickly at who is coming and going. There are all sorts of computer software that handle those chores, as well as the human eyes that focus and make judgements about who looks wrong. And a well-tuned undercover can read people like a book.

My experience is that they bring the uniforms out when some sort alert happens. I've seen it a few times, and the lads in full tactical gear with automatic weapons appear and then disappear as fast as they came.

As for Derek's argument, he's reasonably correct that the police are not there to protect people from criminals, in the civilian sense of criminals. But terrorists are not civilian criminals. They are illegal enemy combatants, and vis a vis terrorists the police are part of a national security structure whose job it most definitely is to protect citizens from asymmetrical attacks.

This distinction is real, but has frequently and unfortunately been politicized and there is considerable confusion about it because of that.

May 4, 2010 at 5:00 PM 
Blogger derek said...

Martin: One small point of contention: Faisal Shahzad is an American citizen and so, by definition, cannot be an "enemy combatant". He is a common criminal.

As to your assertion that the police do have some "requirement" to do proactive battle against the terrorists... look, nobody's saying they WON'T, but there's simply nothing in American jurisprudence to suggest that they have a requirement to act proactively, even for terrorists.

May 4, 2010 at 5:10 PM 
Blogger Martin McPhillips said...

Derek: If you are a U.S. citizen and leave the country and adhere to an enemy and then return to attack, or otherwise harm, the United States, you can be designated an "illegal enemy combatant" (meaning that you are with the enemy but -- this is the illegal part -- you are not wearing the enemy insignia, which of course no terrorist wears). The classic Supreme Court case on this is from WWII (Ex parte Quirin).

The latest on this guy is that he trained with terrorists in Pakistan during some of the five months he was recently there.

Beyond that, I don't think that leaving the country and returning are necessarily requirements for the illegal enemy combatant designation, which is the prerogative of the President in his role as commander-in-chief, but leaving and returning definitely makes it an easier call.

But the short of it is that being a U.S. citizen doesn't guarantee you civilian protections if you've taken on the military efforts of an enemy.

May 4, 2010 at 5:48 PM 
Blogger Martin McPhillips said...

P.S.: I think the more correct term is "unlawful combatant" as opposed to "illegal combatant." That could be a distinction without a difference, but there it is.

Also, Derek is correct that the police could refuse to cooperate with the Feds on a national security matter such as terrorism. But then that would become a political matter within the jurisdiction. The police are not the National Guard and cannot be federalized the way the Guard is under the Constitution. (Although it's conceivable that there are arrangements in federal law that make it possible. I'm too lazy to go do the homework on that.)

Back to the issue of whether citizens are entitled to be protected by police. Well, no, there is no such direct entitlement. The police investigate and apprehend criminals. In high crime areas they take proactive measures, but they don't protect people individually. Occasionally they are assigned to protect individuals, such as material witnesses who are essential to a state prosecution or someone who is under an imminent threat. Most often you see them in "protection" mode for politicians.

The police power, which in the U.S. is mainly that of the individual states, is the authority to capture and punish criminals and assure justice, which hopefully protects the community at large. But there is no duty to protect individuals and that would be a very impractical, perhaps impossible, duty to uphold.

The essence of individual protection is self-defense, a right that has been seriously eroded in many jurisdictions, particularly New York City. The hand gun, of course, is the status quo means of self-defense, and it is always an amazing thing for me that many people do not understand that it is a fundamental natural and civil right to protect oneself.

May 4, 2010 at 8:32 PM 

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