It Happened
By A.D. Freudenheim  

8 May 2005

It happened. It was only a matter of time; thankfully, what happened was simply not much at all. However minor it may have been, though, New Yorkers must still face up to the first post-11 September 2001 attack on our City – no matter what else anyone wants to say about the situation, its causes or misguided purpose. At the moment, though, no one seems to be saying much of anything.

Life went on more-or-less as normal on Thursday, which makes a lot of sense. The explosion on Third Avenue, outside a building that houses the British Consulate as well as other offices, hurt no one and only slightly damaged a small part of the building’s exterior. There was no mass panic, and no apparent need for broader action by New York’s citizens; presumably, the police or other authorities would have indicated whether they thought this was the leading edge of a greater series of attacks. Not much was said and, at least in my world, few people mentioned it during the day, and almost everyone with whom I spoke seemed no more or less anxious about life than they normally appear. In fact, when I did mention it – with a “Wow, we got lucky today” tone to my voice – some folks looked at me as if I was a bit daft. Lucky about what, exactly? Oh, that; right.

Still, it was hard to carry on as if nothing had happened. Every siren stuck out for me as an indicator of the potential that exists for a terrorist attack of a much more serious nature. Walking home late on Thursday, I saw four or five police cars, with their lights flashing but sirens off, circling around a few blocks on the Upper West Side – driving in patterns indicating an attempt to zero in on something or someone. Related to the explosion, or just a drug bust or other, more common crime? I have no idea.

For that matter, it seems no one else does, either. There has been relatively little news coverage of the event, except for what immediately followed. This weekend’s New York Times makes almost no mention of the attack, except in a passing reference in Sunday’s Week in Review section. The Associated Press wire service ran an article on Saturday affirming that the police do not seem to have any suspects or witnesses. A search of current news on Google’s news aggregator turned up very little else.[1] Gawker, a City-centric blog, ran a few headlines indicating the degree to which the explosion had them spooked – but will they pick up the story again on Monday? Maybe everyone is just waiting for new, real news: an arrest or a crucial clue, or some indicator that this was a protest against something specific.


In an unfortunate way, this small explosion makes New York a little bit more like other cities around the world, particularly those of Western Europe, where small-scale bombs have been detonated more frequently in years past. With this bombing, we have lost the horrible distinction we held of being the site of one of the world’s worst terrorist attacks and yet also one of terrorism’s most infrequent targets. London, Moscow, cities across Spain, France, and Germany, not to mention South and Central America and major urban areas in Israel and around the Middle East: citizens all of these places have had to become accustomed (to the extent one ever can) to life with periodic explosions, tearing apart trash cans or mail boxes and typically inflicting much less damage than the 11 September attacks did here. I am not trying to minimize the many murders as a result of any terrorist attack, but most of these acts around the world have been substantively smaller in scale.

New Yorkers, on the other hand, have had only to deal with the extremes that, in some way, mirror the strength of our City’s personality: two big, audacious attacks, both on the World Trade Center, and not much else of note. That is not a particularly comforting realization, is it?


In the weeks and months after the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, I grew more firmly convinced of the need to protect American rights and civil liberties[2], and of the importance of not giving in to the fear that terrorists wish to inflict on their victims. The United States under President Bush has not been as successful in protecting our liberties as it might have been – the USA Patriot Act is just the tip of the civil rights-threatening iceberg; the new driver’s-license-cum-national-ID-card is a more recent danger – but no matter what else one might say, this is the first attack in New York since 2001. Whether that means many others have been prevented, as the Bush Administration would surely claim, we will never know. Nor do we know what the future holds.

If there is one thing about which we need to be vigilant, however, it is the protection of those rights and freedoms, because it is precisely at moments such as this – in the aftermath of an attack we do not understand and could not protect against – that they are most endangered. If this attack is believed to be connected to a bigger terrorist movement, the police and other agencies should do what they can – within the law – to root out these criminals. What is also very much needed is a vigilant media, one that will refuse to let the issue die, and will continue to push not only to uncover who created and detonated the small bombs on Third Avenue last week, but what is being done to find these people, how the search is being conducted – and whether our freedoms, along with freedom of the press, remain respected and central to our way of life.

[1] See “9/11 and the News Cycle: May 1-7,” from The Week in the News, Week in Review Section, The New York Times, 8 May 2005, and “Police Yet to Find a Grenade Explosion Witness, or Suspect,” Associated Press, 7 May 2005.
[2] See for example Land of Confusion, Anger, Part 2: Opportunities, and Security & Maintenance, among others.
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