My Younger Brother’s Misapprehensions About My Risk of Being Killed in A Terror Attack

Note: This story originally appeared on my blog on September 20, 2016.

Early yesterday morning, I received the following text message from one of my younger brothers:

“You better get the hell out of New York City. They’re getting ready to tear that place apart.”

I admit it; I briefly panicked. I was at work at the time ensconsed in my basement work area, a work area that makes it easy to concentrate as distracting sounds and sights from the outside world don’t make it down there. Was my brother watching live news coverage of some horror show that was going down right outside my door?

No such luck. After I finished rushing up the stairs to the ground floor and looking out the front window, I discovered that my fellow New Yorkers weren’t dealing with anything more perilous than a late-summer drizzle. And despite the cavalcade of fire trucks that sped down the street, sirens blaring, earlier that morning, my particular stretch of West 57th Street was more quiet than it usually is on a Monday morning.

Like most people who live outside of New York City, my brother had no idea just how far away I was from the scene of Saturday night’s bombing in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, a bombing that injured twenty-nine people but didn’t kill anybody, thank God. My brother also didn’t seem to understand that living New York City year-round (I live in Brooklyn and I work in Manhattan) doesn’t necessarily raise my risk of getting iced by a group of crazed terrorists.

You see, the days of 9/11 scale terrorism — highly coordinated attacks which kill thousands of innocents in one fell swoop — are largely over. In the fifteen years since the attack on the World Trade Center, the American people have become a hypervigilant lot and our government, embodied in the Department of Homeland Security, has become much better at stopping these attacks before they happen.

Would be terrorists know this. That’s why smaller scale attacks on soft targets are becoming more commonplace. The Saturday mall stabbings in Minnesota, the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the holiday party shooting in San Bernadino, California, and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando earlier this year were all perpetrated by deranged and angry young men who targeted civilians in places where people, expecting to be safe, lower their guard.

And those attacks were not the work of organized terror groups. For that matter, none of the perpetrators were known to belong to terror cells, either. No, these attacks were enacted by men who self-radicalized so steathily that even their family members were unaware of their newfound beliefs.

And the cities of St. Cloud, Boston, San Bernadino, and Orlando don’t have terror threat levels nearly as high as New York. None of the victims who were killed or injured during those attacks ever expected to be dealing with those types of problems in their neck of the woods. The sad fact of the matter is, moving out of New York City won’t substantially reduce my risk of getting blown to smithereens by some ISIS wannabe.

On top of all that, as a (smallish) woman who rides the NYC subway at all times of day and who lives in a “rough” neighborhood, I am already living under constant threat of violence. Violence against women is real. Because of rape culture, my lifetime risk of being sexually asssaulted is crazy high. Getting out of The Big Apple won’t drop my risk of those things at all.

And every day life in New York City is filled with all kinds of hazards. I’ve almost been mowed down by careless drivers (New York City drivers are the worst in the country) and self-righteous bike riders (seriously, using environmentally friendly transportation never gave anybody the right to blow through a red light) more times than I care to count. I’ve tripped and fallen on uneven sidewalks. I’ve been jostled by thoughtless tourists; I’ve had my arm slammed in a subway door. I was once rescued by the FDNY after I got trapped in an old elevator. I’ve had asthma attacks in public after forgetting my inhaler at home. I’ve been followed. I’ve been street harassed. I’ve been stranded in unfamiliar areas with poor MTA service and little money. And, lucky for me, I survived those incidents unscathed.

The truth of the matter is that the world is a dangerous place and although the world is filled with good kind people, there are enough predators out there to have me looking over my shoulder. There is nowhere on the earth where I can go to completely escape those people.

So, no, I’m not “getting the hell out” of New York City. If my life will be perilous no what I choose to do, I might as well stay in a dynamic racially/ethnically/culturally diverse city that offers a full range of career and social opportunities.

I was tempted to text my brother back and inform him of my decision. I decided against it. I was busy at work and my brother most likely was, too. Instead, a few hours later when I was on my break, I posted a snarky little message on my Facebook page, complete with video of my fellow New Yorkers going about their day. If video of people chatting on cell phones, noshing on food, smoking cigarettes, or withdrawing cash from the curbside CapitalOne ATM wasn’t enough to reassure my brother that I was safe, nothing I said would.