After seeing yet another domestic attack in our country, this time in New York City at the hands of one Ahmad Khan Rahami, our media and political leaders have again stated to the American people one very clear message: our government is not willing to recognize this as a terrorist attack on United States soil.
I understand why no one wants to admit that terrorism is alive and well in America. Who wants to be a country where terrorism exists? Omar Mateen killed 49 people in Orlando, Florida, and Tamerlan and Dzohkar Tsarnaev bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013, but we just can’t bring ourselves to admit that these were terrorist-motivated actions. And now we have Rahami, the next on the growing list of individuals with international terrorist sympathies who has attacked innocent people, and so we will define him as…. what? Disgruntled?
Again, I get it. The federal government tells its citizens that the national community is protected, but then we continue to see something else entirely. In fact, all of these individuals mentioned were previously investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and later released. What happened after they were freed? 53 people were killed. Over 275 people were injured and traumatized.
It’s an image issue. Our government worries about its image like Brad Pitt frets over alimony payments; let’s not offend suspects by calling them “terrorists.” Better yet, let’s not offend terrorists by wrongfully categorizing these suspects. The last thing we should do is upset a terrorist faction and its sensibilities. I mean, they’ve worked so very hard to establish their place in the world as maniacal killers. How dare we compare them to some amateur who builds pressure cooker bombs.
Personally, I don’t care what we call them. I just don’t want them released after they are being investigated. The FBI had an excellent reason to follow up with Mateen, the Tsarnaev brothers and Rahami, and somewhere during the investigation the feds were unable to hold these individuals any longer. The investigative leads ran out, or the agents legitimately thought that these guys weren’t a threat. Obviously a visit from the FBI didn’t seem to worry the attackers too much. It’s a sad day when our federal law enforcement officers don’t feel empowered to act on a terrorist hunch, but a terrorist is empowered to act even after being investigated.
So what do we do about it? What can you and I, the average-joe citizen, do? Should we point fingers at our own government and blame them for not following through with their promises of keeping us safe? Okay, we could do that. I mean, the blame game has been so effective before….
Or, we do our part to keep our country safe. The Department of Homeland Security has already admitted that they can’t do it without us. They have the “See Something, Say Something” campaign in place, a cry for help to the community admitting that the DHS can’t do it alone. If you see something suspicious, feel free to speak up. Let’s work with our federal agencies to protect each other.
The campaign is good. But I personally don’t think it’s enough. I like mine better.
“See Something, Do Something, Say Something.”
Homeland Security wants you to go about your lives and report anything suspicious. That’s it. Personally, I think we should do more. So what can you do to keep our communities safe? I’m glad you asked:
- Neighborhood Watch – I honestly don’t remember the last time I lived in a neighborhood where one of these was set up. I think I was in elementary school, I remember Old Man Hawbecker driving his Datsun around with the magnetized “Neighborhood Watch” logo on his car door. I knew why he was there, and I knew I could flag him down if I was in trouble. Where did this fantastic program go??? It’s time to get back to doing things that work. Are you going to stop terrorists from attacking your community if you’re working a neighborhood watch? Doubtful. But you’re sure to keep petty thieves from roaming your area, something I have seen an increase. There will also probably be a kid who will look at you drive by and feel safe knowing that they can go to you for help if there is danger.
- Law Enforcement Help – If you are supporting an organization that is targeting law enforcement agencies without justification, you are in the wrong and I want you to stop reading what I am writing. In fact, don’t ever read my material again. Police officers have everyone’s best interests in mind, and they put their lives on the line every single day to make sure that everyone is safe. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, and they are deserving of our support. Get in touch with your local police departments and find out what you can do to assist them.
- School Volunteering – Schools are always looking for volunteers, and they welcome any help. Proactive prevention of violence starts with leading by example, and leadership in our schools inspires our youth to be something better in society as they mature. I volunteer and substitute regularly at schools, and it makes a difference! Children hunger for mentors, be that hero to them and inspire them to be a force for good.
- Be Nosy – When I was growing up, I knew every “mom” in my neighborhood, and they most certainly knew me. In fact, they knew everyone. They knew every kid, every phone number and every address. They knew when every child had to be home for dinner and what homework needed to be done. They ran an intelligence-gathering program that put the CIA to shame. Where did this neighborhood go? Why are we not doing this anymore? Our neighbors should be the first people we turn to in a community crisis. We should at least know their names and trust them. Get to know your community; ask questions about them, let them know that you can trust them and that you are there for them. I promise that they will respond in kind.
- Trust Yourself – In my book “Our Path To Safety: A U.S. Secret Service Agent’s Guide to a Safe Community,” I discuss at length the importance of acting on your personal suspicions. Oftentimes after a attack or tragedy has occurred, people who knew the attacker open up about how they thought something was “off” or “unusual” in the days and weeks leading up to the event. They further express their own remorse for not acting on their intuition. Don’t doubt what you’re feeling or thinking about someone or something. You should feel empowered to speak up about what you are sensing. It’s likely that if you are feeling it, then other people are too. Remember: You’re not over-reacting about someone; you’re acting to prevent a possible crisis.
Let the government and the media squabble over the definition of a terrorist action. Victims of these attacks don’t care anymore about “definitions,” and neither should we. Let’s use our energy and our resources to do our part in protecting the community. If we do that, then our political figures and media talking-heads won’t have to argue over what the term “terrorism” means anymore, and they can focus on the more pressing items of the day…. like discussing multi-million dollar football players who refuse to stand for the National Anthem.
Jason Wells is the President and Founder of the National Advancements for Proactive Safety educational non-profit organization committed to providing a safe community through intervention processes, as well as a board member of the National Senior Citizens Committee. He is a former Special Agent with the United States Secret Service, and holds a Masters of Science with highest honors in Strategic Security and Protection Management he is a weekly contributing writer to the online publication Robious Corridor and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Fatherly.com, Slate and most recently in Forbes.