Commentary Magazine


City Grapples with the Normality of Vigilance

In 2008, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey gave an emotional speech about American anti-terror efforts. When the topic turned to Mukasey’s prior experience as a federal judge in New York City overseeing terrorism cases and whether that prepared him for his new job, he was honest. There isn’t much that can prepare a person for confronting the sheer magnitude of threats against the United States.

“It is way beyond — way beyond anything that I knew or believed,” Mukasey said. “So, if I was picked for the level of my knowledge of what I actually see, that was a massive piece of false advertising. There’s a lot going on out there.” That comment gets to the heart of the dilemma evident in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s press conference yesterday about what the FBI termed a “specific and credible, though not corroborated” threat to the city on Sunday, for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Here is part of what the mayor said:

Now the threat at this moment has not been corroborated — I want to stress that. It is credible, but it has not been corroborated. But we do live in a world where we must take these threats seriously, and we certainly will.

The NYPD is deploying additional resources around the city and taking other steps to keep our city safe — some of which you may notice, and some of which you will not notice. But there is no reason for any of the rest of us to change anything in our daily routines. We have the best police department in the world.  Over the past decade, they have helped thwart more than a dozen potential attacks. Here’s what you’ve got to do: If you see something, say something and that has always been true, and over the next few days, we should all keep our eyes wide open.

But the best thing that we can do to fight terror is to refuse to be intimidated by it. For ten years, we have not allowed terrorists to intimidate us. We have lived our lives without fear — and we will continue to do so. So go about your business as you normally would — but just be vigilant.

You can already see the response in the streets and subways of the city. The increased presence of the extraordinarily capable and professional New York Police Department is both unnerving and reassuring–as is a speech in which the mayor refers to a specific and credible threat against transportation infrastructure, but announces he will be confidently riding the subway anyway. That’s the paradox of post-9/11 New York City life, and what makes a press conference like Bloomberg’s so unexpectedly normal.