Thursday, May 06, 2010

Suspicious Behavior

In these difficult days of terrorist alerts and random crime, we are often urged by the authorities to report suspicious behavior. This, of course, begs an important question: what constitutes suspicious behavior?

This question was asked in this great article by Noreen Malone that appeared yesterday in, in which she reported on an afternoon spent observing "suspicious activity" in New York's Times Square: If You See Something, Say Something? Ms Malone asks, How do you know when activity in Times Square is suspicious? Don't people act suspiciously there all the time? She then goes on to document how much disturbing behavior she could document during a Tuesday lunch hour in Times Square.

As it turns out, quite a bit. From the famous Naked Cowboy to people wandering aimlessly or talking loudly to themselves, the streets of New York are full of suspicious - if not downright bizarre - activity.

And it's not just New York City.

An hour spent wandering the streets of Washington DC will leave you wondering when the standards for "normal" behavior were revised (and we're not even talking about Congress). It's not unusual to see ragged people pushing shopping carts full of odd, lumpy plastic bags, or well-dressed young men shouting loudly to whoever is on the other end of the bluetooth device in their ears. People wear large backpacks, carry bulky bags, drag rolling suitcases, and drop bulky packages into public trash containers. People with incomprehensible accents hustle you for handouts on buses or on Metro platforms, while others sing to themselves, play air guitars, or stare blankly into the far distance. There's also the "cone of silence" behavior demonstrated by people who want to have a private conversation on their cell phones, and so isolate themselves by sitting in a bathroom cubicle to carry on discussions that are often embarrassingly intimate.

Ms Malone ends her article with a plaintive, very important question: How do you know what is truly dangerous?

I wish I knew. As one of the people Ms Malone interviewed during her observations in Times Square said, "A guy in a dress—you see that every day. Somebody standing by the table with a bookbag for a long time, or leaves something by a garbage can, that's suspicious."

I think I'll just stay home. I can be as eccentric as I want there, right?

Have a good day. Report suspicious behavior, whatever that is.

More thoughts tomorrow.



Mike said...

I'm glad I retired before the bathroom cell phone conversations became the norm.

Melissa B. said...

An older, ragged gentleman who stands on the corner by Ford's Theater always salutes me. He's harmless and actually a very nice guy. I have to say, though, that after living in the DC area for so long, I don't really know what "normal" is anymore...