EDITORIAL: Suspicious packages set off alarm bells
Recent attacks prompt awareness of surrounding threats
America was gripped by a series of events this weekend — five explosive devices were found in a backpack by the Elizabeth Train Station of the New Jersey Transit rail system, an explosion occurred along the route of a scheduled race in Seaside Park, New Jersey, and a bombing injured 29 people in Chelsea in New York City — all occurring in close proximity to the University. And for many Rutgers students, whom primarily reside within the tri-state area, these events might be in their own neighborhood.
While Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect tied to the New Jersey and New York attacks, has been apprehended, information continues to be released minute-by-minute and there isn’t enough context to analyze the weekend’s incidents. Material is disclosed in real-time by newspapers like the New York Times and the Guardian without a fully coherent picture. At the moment, the New York Times acknowledges it lacks two critical pieces of information: why the sites were chosen and what the motive was.
What can readily be gleaned from the weekend’s scenarios are the disparate actions and reactions to the events. The bombings this weekend were effectively contained, partly by chance. Two homeless men opened the backpack in Elizabeth hoping there would be some valuables inside, and then turned the bag in to police when they found explosives. The race in Seaside Park was postponed and the bomb detonated without harming the race’s participants and bystanders. But the events were also mediated partly by New Jersey and New York’s state efficiency. The police officers in New Jersey quickly disarmed the bombs in Elizabeth and searched the area for other potential threats, and the City of New York immediately halted PATH and subway services, which they rarely ever do. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it’s impressive how the U.S. is adapting to the widespread threat of imminent danger.
These quick and well-organized actions deserve approbation, but some of the reactions do not. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, before anyone else knew what was happening during the moment of frenzy, declared the explosion was a bomb and hinted at terrorism. Officials did not release any official information regarding the event, so most major newspapers, politicians and the public did not know what happened — but apparently an omniscient Trump knew what happened without even being there. This audacity is in stark contrast with Gov. Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) responsible and collected response to the event that hesitated jumping to conclusions, noting that any major bombing is an act of terrorism, but prevented making assumptions about who the terrorists may be with the paucity of given information. One wanted the public to be frightened so that he can play the role of the strong-man presidential candidate, and the other wanted the public to remain calm and not lose their heads about something that was not yet understood.
Reactions greatly differed, and some New Yorkers were cool, possibly taking the event too well — bordering on indifference. Some tweets said, “People calling into NY1 who were on the block when the explosion happened? Full NYC calm," "I heard the explosion, then went to the deli,’” or “New Yorkers: An explosion happened a block away. Oh well. Gotta meet my friends at the bar …”
But people can’t assume events will turn out just fine, even here in New Brunswick (an area that happens to be in the middle of the two major areas attacked this weekend: Seaside and Chelsea). If there’s a suspicious package or backpack, report it. Be vigilant, not indifferent. Be cautious, and don’t fall prey to scare-tactics of alarmists.
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