Service of Passivity

May 20th, 2013

Categories: Passivity, Police


I ran an errand in Grand Central Station last week and on my way in I noticed two suitcases leaning against a wall near the door to the food court. They were still there on my exit.

At first I figured a tourist must be on the curb flagging a taxi, [most New Yorkers wouldn’t dare leave suitcases unattended like that for fear of theft], but this person would have been long gone in the four or so minutes it took for me to buy bread and walk outside.

The picture above was the first one I took on my phone and as the cases were hiding behind the young woman in the shot, I took another one which clearly showed the cases and nobody near them. The camera was full so I couldn’t save that image but it was evident on my phone’s screen when I showed it to a policeman in the station’s office downstairs. By the time I emerged three police officers were standing around the cases.

Was I the only one reporting the situation? I didn’t see anyone in the police office and the young woman in the photo, like countless others on this busy midtown street, didn’t notice them.

I described the incident to a few friends. One, Martha Takayama, urged me to draft a post about it. She wrote: “It is a shocking commentary on our indifference to the realities of today’s world! What an arrogant attitude! How can we possibly, as a nation or a people, confront our social and political problems if we continue to be so turned in! Boston is still reeling and will be forever from the bombing.”

The admonition, “When you see something, say something,” seems to have been around for ages. Loudspeakers at Grand Central and in the subway chant the message for those who might forget. Don’t we hear it anymore? Why do you think the message isn’t sinking in, just one month after the Boston Marathon bombings? What might do the trick?


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4 Responses to “Service of Passivity”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Many march along totally oblivious to their surroundings, while another segment of humanity doesn’t care about what’s happening, even if crimes take place in front of them. It’s that sort of indifference which gave birth to the Kitty Genovese Law.

    The usual idea is that these are things which happen to others, not us. Recent developments, such as various shootings, and the Boston incident may make people realize that it may very well be “us” who gets blown to bits the next time. Perhaps such thoughts may add to the general publics powers of observation. This may take a while, and the sooner the better.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    We’re of the same mind. It pays to focus for so many reasons, if only because you don’t miss the characters on the street, the fabulous clothes, handsome men, stunning women, great windows, street food and the scene always changes.

    Around the 2000 New Year’s celebration when there was talk of shenanigans and NYC was on alert, especially around Times Square, the US Postal service removed mail boxes in the vicinity and nailed others closed. I was walking home from work one night and noticed a single bag of garbage on the sidewalk in front of a building and chose another street. It’s rare to see only one bag of garbage in midtown!

    The stakes are too high for people to think, “If only” if they pass by something and can’t be bothered to report it.

  3. JPM Said:

    Good for you to have gone to the police about those suitcases! It was the right thing to do.

    Your question is more complicated than it would first appear and has many possible answers. Some may be:

    We are busy and in a hurry, and don’t want to waste our time.

    We don’t trust the police and “big brother” government.

    We don’t want to get mixed up in something — like witnesses who will not come forward.

    We tend to mind our own business, or are selfish, depending on one’s point of view.

    We figure somebody else will do it.

    We’ve had 20 years of better than average city government, declining crime rates and feel used to being safe on our streets and in public places.

    And so forth…

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wish I could disagree with all the reasons you give but I fear you are correct. We are complacent.

    There’s a difference between being vigilant and hysterical. The books written about and by people who lived through daily bombings in London during World War II illustrate the lengths to which citizens go to carry on as usual while taking care all the same. Do we need to have houses on either side of ours crumble to the ground before we take care?

    We seem to carry a bit too far the popular war slogan, printed on pads and posters, tee shirts and anything else with a flat surface, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

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