Mike Alasaad was quick to the heart of things, not long after the pipe bomb exploded just under the 42nd Street Chevys he manages. Alasaad, 40, had handed out two cartons of water bottles along with cups of coffee to NYPD officers and first responders, regulars here in this permanent terror-target of a neighborhood.
“They’re our people,” he said simply.
You’re never more likely to find people generalizing about populations than after an attempted terror attack, of which NYC has seen its share. What is a New Yorker? Before the smoke dissipates you’ll hear that New Yorkers stand strong and carry on. They’re unflappable. They’ll be walking around and swiping their MetroCards tomorrow morning. Those are New York Values.
The New York spirit
In reality, it’s being a New Yorker to blasé-boast that the train delays from the explosion weren’t as bad as the weekend F train. It’s being a New Yorker to not give a bomb a second thought. It’s also very New York to text friends and family, making very sure they aren’t hurt. There are New Yorkers who have a small voice in the back of their heads anticipating the worst.
The politicians who do their best to endorse New York’s spirit likely know this. They are keeping their spirits up for the viewers at home. They, too, are reaching for connections across the empty space between us, just like Alasaad did.
The best version of “our people” after an explosion might be the ones who try to help, who run with stretchers when there are injured or who walk footposts trying to prevent the unimaginable, all too imaginable result.
And “our people” are the store managers along Eighth Avenue who kept their Midtown locations open, sometimes just as a place for stranded commuters to sit while waiting for a bus that wouldn’t be coming soon.
“Our people” are complicated and ever changing, like Alasaad himself, who smiles and says he has an interesting background. He was born in Kuwait. His mother is Palestinian. He has been married to a Jewish woman for nearly 30 years. They met in the United States, where such things are possible.
Our’s is a country that has granted safe haven to those like the alleged bomber Akayed Ullah, a Brooklynite who Monday decided to Velcro and ziptie a device of destruction to his body. It detonated in the crowded underground subway passageway between the Port Authority bus terminal and Times Square. Thankfully, Ullah’s mechanical skills were as mistaken as his ideology. His explosive only partially functioned, injuring him and three people nearby.
A sigh of relief for now
When an event like this happens, it’s not just the locals who will want to tell you what We New Yorkers or We Americans are or what “our people” do. President Donald Trump’s spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, argued the incident would have been prevented had “chain migration” for family members been discontinued nearly a decade ago. She ignored the amount of time Ullah, a lawful permanent resident, has been here and the overwhelming history of peaceful, vital immigration to this country. Instead, just us vs. them.
Law enforcement sources on Monday advanced preliminary reasons that Ullah might have gone down the Islamic State-inspired path he did. Was it the political situation in his old country, Bangladesh? Israeli actions in Gaza? U.S. airstrikes in Syria? Whatever it was, it’s likely he too had distinct ideas about who were his people and who weren’t.
Those ideas and their realization will be poured over for the next days and months, as New York breathes a sigh of relief at a blast that fizzled. In the meantime, Alasaad’s philosophy rings truest. Our people lend a hand.