Fear and confusion are never opportune, but the attack on a subway train and platform in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood this morning—in which at least 16 people were injured, including ten who were shot—could not have come at a worse time for New York City’s recovery.

It may be too early to speculate about a motive for this series of criminal acts. For now, the perpetrator (or perpetrators) remains at large. Will it turn out that he has a particular cause, or was the attack simply designed to sow fear at a time when New Yorkers are already on edge because of rising crime in the streets and subways? Either way, it is a terrorist act. Today, the word “terrorism” has come to denote specific types of individuals working to advance specific agendas, but simply instilling fear and causing panic counts as terrorism, too.

Transportation facilities, particularly underground locations, are unfortunately perfect for meeting these goals. Today’s riders are already fearful, as violent crime remains elevated on the subways. Police commissioner Keechant Sewell noted in a press conference this afternoon that no particular group of riders seems to have been singled out, though she also said that police have not identified a motive. A New York subway station or car contains lots of different types of people. Where else are people of all ages, races, and ethnicity squashed together for the sole purpose of getting from place to place?

New York’s diversity makes it easy for an attacker to fit in and avoid drawing attention to himself. Whether you’re wearing a construction vest and hoodie or a tuxedo and patent leather dress shoes, you can be sure that no one in New York will pay you a second thought. And with today’s continuing fears of Covid, a mask—even a gas mask—won’t bring even a glance.

The speed with which the fire department, the police department, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and transit personnel responded should allay public fears. But an event like this is a reminder that the subways are vulnerable to attacks—and of the importance of law enforcement underground.

Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images


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