On Tuesday, eight people were killed and at least 11 were injured when 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov plowed a pickup truck along a bicycle path near the Hudson River. The attack began shortly after 3 p.m., only a short distance from the 9/11 Memorial, in Lower Manhattan.
New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill said, "The dead and injured were just going about their days, heading home from work or from school or enjoying the afternoon sun on their bicycles."
It is difficult to shock Manhattan; its streets have suffered many disturbances over the years, and New Yorkers have a reputation for resilience. But since terrorism is normally seen as a distant problem, this violent intrusion was unnerving to many—myself included.
I had just picked up a friend’s 5-year-old daughter from her school in the West Village. She was dressed for Halloween in a velvet cape as Little Red Riding Hood; I was an embarrassingly half-arsed wolf.
It was right around 3 p.m. when I met her, and we had intended to take a short subway ride to Chambers Street (a few blocks from where the incident happened) to her apartment for trick-or-treating. But the two of us had, rather spontaneously, decided to wander toward a parade in Washington Square Park instead. We were about to join the fun when I got a phone call from her dad, around 3:40 p.m., checking to see if we were OK.
“There’s just been an incident,” he told me. “People killed around Chambers Street, shot or mowed down—they’re not sure.”
It was only later that I found out the full story: in addition to a bloody trail, Saipov had left a note stating that the crime was committed on behalf of the Islamic State.
Children have a knack for intuiting body language. I must have altered my demeanor quite a bit because when I got off the phone my wee pal tugged on my arm.
“What’s wrong?” She said to me.
“Something bad has happened near where you live.” I said.
“Something bad? What?”
“A bad man hurt people. But don’t worry, everybody you know is okay.”
“Everybody I know?”
“What about the people I don’t know? Are they okay?”
I gave it to her straight—a gentle "no"—which was followed by her inevitable tears.
“Why would he do that?!”
Not knowing how to explain savage violence to a child, I offered a few mystifying platitudes, no doubt as meaningless to her as they were to me. Then a distraction: how about some hot chocolate?
On the way to the nearest Starbucks which was, as anyone in New York will tell you, no more than three blocks away, the questions persisted. Why was the bad man so angry? How did he kill the people? Did he kill any children? Did the police catch him?
Scared of giving the wrong answers, I told her to ask her parents.
As we walked, there were cops everywhere. Helicopters fluttered overhead, sirens rang shrill, and bomb squads hurried past. I couldn't help think how differently the afternoon could have turned out had Little Red Riding Hood and I not diverted from our plan—the plan that would have put us so close at just the wrong moment.
Glued to my phone, I scoured the news for updates. I texted friends, I checked Facebook. I was hoping to find out, for my own benefit, if not for hers, the who, the what, and the why.
As my Internet loaded, we stopped briefly by the entrance to Washington Square Park. I sat down, propped myself against the railing and pulled her close. She gazed over at the hordes of policemen walking towards the parade, then said something in earnest that I find myself wishing so bad I could believe just as wholly as she does.
“You know what?” she said.
“The bad guys always lose.”
There are three main traps of thought that we often fall into after something like this. The first is to shy away from naming the evil we face. The second is to surrender our shock, and so tolerate violence in our midst. The third is to despair—to live in fear.
In a strange and humbling way, it is the quiet voice of a child who can most effectively cut through the noise in times like these, and remind us, that we cannot let the "bad guys" win.
Photo by: London Scout