September 15, 2004

I narked on someone today

I pass through Grand Central Station at least twice a day every work day, sometimes more often. I pass through it during prime commuter hours, at least in the evening when I usually try to make the 6:00 train so I can get home early enough to play with my kids. That's why I'm at my desk by 7:30 every morning. The terminal is usually guarded by police and national guardsmen. I think that the guards are supposed to make us feel safe. Generally, I don't feel safe. My thoughts usually tend to the dark and the morose while walking through and I fixate a bit on some bad things. Today, coming off the train, there was some woman with a small camcorder taping the passengers as they exited the train and streamed up the platform. She wasn't in an MTA uniform. It made me nervous. I've never seen anyone do that.

So I found a policeman immediately, told him what I saw, and he went from relaxed and watchful to tense and in motion in a nanosecond as he went to investigate. He didn’t even take the time to say a single word to me after I reported to him. He was just on his way without hesitation.

The taping made me nervous, more nervous, I should say. I'm glad I narked on this woman, even if it was a perfectly innocent exercise on her part.

Because, what if it wasn't?

Posted by Random Penseur at September 15, 2004 08:28 AM

Better safe than sorry!

Posted by: Andrew Cusack at September 15, 2004 08:51 AM

Hey I was going to say that! Glad you did something RP..

Posted by: Rachel Ann at September 15, 2004 09:18 AM

What they said!

Posted by: GrammarQueen at September 15, 2004 10:21 AM

She could have been dangerous, or she could have been this guy -

Or this guy -

Not that I'm saying she may not have been dangerous and that you over-reacted... but photography and videotaping has almost become illegal in the U.S. it seems. Unless you are in your own home taking pictures of you cat, you may be a terrorist :)

Posted by: Oorgo at September 15, 2004 10:59 AM

Oorgo, standing on the commuter platform, which is not a place frequented by tourists and has no intrinsic artistic merit, then videotaping is really a suspicious act. Let her explain herself to somebody. When you read in the news about video surveillance performed by terrorist groups in aid of planning attacks and you see someone filming where there is no good obvious reason to do so, then I think it is the better practice to request a polite explanation. If she doesn't like it, well, not my problem and certainly not a violation of her civil rights.

Posted by: RP at September 15, 2004 12:06 PM

"Better safe than sorry!"

Please, give us all a break. The only threat to civilization is the mass of Henny Pennys running around fearing that the sky is falling, yet taking no note than the trusted Farmer Brown is going to lead them all to slaughter.

Perhaps you should start narking on mobile phone users too......they may be DRUG DEALERS!

With all do respect Mr. RP, you very much sound like a commuter.

Posted by: Eric at September 16, 2004 12:02 PM

Eric, I guess you haven't spent much time reading any of the previous posts. I don't mind since there are rather a lot of it. That said, one, it's all "due" respect and two, that's just a fancy way of saying you have no respect at all for the object of that phrase. So, bearing in mind your ignorance, maybe we'll just give this one a pass. Also, I'm feeling sort of kindly disposed towards humanity today.

No, screw it. Eric, you don't have the first clue, do you? The next time you attend a memorial service with an empty coffin for a victim of terrorism, you are welcome to comment. Until then, you have added nothing to the discussion. I would have expected more from the U of Chicago.

Posted by: RP at September 16, 2004 05:18 PM

Personally, I don't like being filmed by particulars in public areas. I must submit to being filmed by security cameras everywhere, but I think I have the right to object to being part of anybody's personal endeavor, be it made with good or bad intentions.

That said, I would rather people err on the side of safety than not challenge questionable activities because it may seem like a silly thing to do.

I'm with you Random. If there's no hidden motive behind the lady's recording, she can easily explain herself and move on. But people have to show a little more caution and consideration in what they do, and be aware of the high sensitivity of our current predicament. It's not a good time to go out there and do things that could be confused with planning or conducting a terrorist activity.

Sorry...didn't mean to ramble on so much.

Posted by: Mick at September 16, 2004 07:21 PM

I have to side with Eric on this, only definitely in a less acerbic way, since you are my big blog brother and I think I am allowed to disagree with you :)

I commute into London several times a week (as you know, since I blog about the trains and how they are fodder for people watching and frustration!) and I go to the commuter platforms of said stations, not the cool Eurostar ones or anything like that. If I saw someone videotaping it, I wouldn't care a bit. Big deal, video all the people you want, I know people watching is a huge part of being a tourist. Now, if she were trying to get into a locked maintenance shed or something, then that's a different matter, and would be reported pronto.

I live with a train enthusiast, who is keen to check out the fittings and workings of trains. I don't like thinking that just because my boyfriend is checking out the hooters on a train instead of on a woman, he may wind up in the clink.

I think the videoing was likely totally ok, and if it made you feel better, perhaps the best thing to do would be to ask her yourself what she was up to.

Posted by: Helen at September 17, 2004 03:05 AM

Helen, you are totally allowed to disagree with me. Indeed, EVERYBODY is allowed to disagree with me, I just prefer it when people do it lie you do it, as an adult without a spiteful comment.

That said, I remain unmoved by your argument. Filming in odd places today is a suspicious act. Grand Central Station has been evacuated a couple of times over the last few years because of terror threats. I know, I've been there when it happened. Filming the commuter platforms which by themselves have no artistic merit and should hold little to no interest (and which are reserved for ticket holders, I believe) is out of place and cause for noticing it if not concern about it.

We don't really have train watchers here as you do in GB. It's a cultural difference. And there was something about the way in which the young woman was holding the camera plus the odd expression on her face made me nervous. If I was nervous, the best thing to do was to ask a police officer to do something about it. What was I supposed to do if I asked her what she was up to and received an answer I didn't care for? I'm not empowered to do anything about it and nor should I be. No, she's better off talking to someone who has to care about her civil rights because, as a private citizen, I don't have to let my behaviour be guided by the protections afforded to her by the Constitution.

Again, it may be that the taping was ok. But what if it wasn't? People with links to terrorist groups have been filming bridges and other infrastructure, including the Citibank building in NY. Put into that context, I don't believe I was over-reacting. The police officer I told about it didn't seem to think so either.

Posted by: RP at September 17, 2004 09:34 AM

The only question I have to you and her would be if she was a terrorist, why did she pick a commuter platform, filming people as they go to work. I'm sure she was amazed at the streaming crowds of people coming too and fro, I sure am.

I also know weird film buffs that use stock footage like that to make mosaic type short films. And they probably have weird looks on their face while trying to avoid the bustle and get a good shot.

I just hope, if it was innocent filming, that she didn't get hassled by "The Man". I personally would have casually asked what she was up to, I'm usually pretty good at telling when people are lying to my face. If I wasn't satisfied with the response then I would report her. Besides you could always say that she needs your permission to show your image anywhere, or that she's stealing your soul :)

Posted by: Oorgo at September 17, 2004 03:58 PM

This set of comments is in response to RP's reply to my initial comment.

1) Thank you for pointing out that I misspelled "due" in the phrase "with all due respect." I know better than that and should have acted in a consistent manner.

2) I did not mean to leave you with the impression that I have no respect for you, I simply meant to leave the impression that after reading your post my eyes were rolled so far in to the back of my head that I could not see straight. I imagine that most people would agree that suspecting mobile phone users as being drug dealers is ridiculous, but, hilariously, such has passed in our very recent history. I certainly mean to suggest the obvious analogy. The new vogue simply happens to be terrorism and video recorders carry the symbolic power. "Better safe than sorry" is something one says to oneself in order to avoid having both the logical and empirical arguments which do not make one feel good about oneself at the end of the day. My eyes were rolled into the back of my head because you (and some of those who posted) approached the matter with immense gravity even though the question itself is a joke.

3) On my meaning when I said that you "sound like a commuter": I meant that your tale reminds me of the meddling, paranoid, "daddy knows best" characters that make rush hour such a nightmare in New York. It appears rather unfair of me to have lumped you into a category that is reserved for suspect persons based on only one of your actions, but I only meant to be safe rather than sorry. (The obvious analogy will not be forced on you.)

4) You failed to address the meat of my comment re the Henny Pennys. Addressing structural concerns is the best way to allay the threat of terrorism, not running around in a state of frenzy blind and deaf to the proven sources of peril.

5) I take it that you lost a friend to terrorism, but this does not grant you a monopoly on the discussion. The Chicago education in me is dying to point out the fallacy in your argument, yet I am simply going to resist. I will say that the fashion of September 11th stopped being pleasing to my eye the moment that all and sundry began flaunting it at every social club in town. Being a New Yorker requires more than wearing black. Read the last sentence again.

Respectfully yours,

Posted by: Eric at September 17, 2004 06:51 PM


I write to acknowledge receipt of your last comment. It put me in mind of a quote from the Princess Bride. You may know it. The quote goes something like this: “You keep using that word [here: respect; consistent; vogue; symbolic; logical; empirical; structural; fashion; and pleasing]. I do not think it [they] mean what you think it [they] mean.” Your comment is shot through with so many lacunae and tergiversations that I would ordinarily dismiss it as the work of a troll and move on. But, seeing as how I am inclined, generally, to give people the benefit of the doubt, I shall do so one last time here and take a moment to respond, refute, and explain. We’ll go in order of your points.

Your point 1: I would be prepared to give you credit that you know better except your use of the word consistent in this point is nonsensical and strongly suggests otherwise. Consistent with what? Frankly, impossible to say. Nonetheless, let’s move on.

Your point 2: You may wish to see someone regarding the problem you have with your eyes. I decline to address your point about phones and drug dealers. I have no experience with drug dealers and am prepared to concede your greater familiarity. I take strong exception to your unsupportable assertion that terrorism is the new “vogue”, or fashion and that camcorders carry only “symbolic: power. Terrorism is not fashionable, except in that many of the organizations that support terrorism are enthusiastically supported by fashionable young men and women on college campuses. Terrorism is not considered fashionable by those who ride buses in Israel or send their children to school in Beslan. To suggest otherwise is insulting. To suggest that camcorders are only symbolic tools in preparing detailed surveillance of terrorist targets is dangerously ignorant. Beyond that, this is a field where the language of deconstructionist theories and semiotics is not applicable. Finally, there are no “logical or empirical” arguments left to discuss here. Either you believe the empirical proof that terrorism is a danger and that camcorders are used to plan terrorism or you close your eyes and reject that proof. I invite you to continue walking around with your eyes closed and I hope nothing worse happens than a barked shin.

Your point 3: You have created a new class of insult. I doff my hat to you. That said, of course I am a “daddy knows best” kind of guy. I have young children at home and I am an attorney at work. I am both charged with the responsibility at home and paid at work to advise and guide. Would you want a father or an attorney who lacked that certitude? Well, come to think of it, maybe you would. Most others would not. The rest of the point reeks of condensation and can, I suspect, be safely disregarded as the work of a crank.

Your point 4: To quote an old commercial regarding your question about the meat: “Where’s the beef?” What meat? There was nothing to address. You now attempt to ascribe meaning where none existed before. I suspect that may be the proof of the U of C education we were looking for before. There are no structural concerns regarding terrorism that can be addressed at our level. Those concerns are the province of state actors, not individuals. Can we think about them? Sure. Can we act on them? No. We lack the means. It is naïve to suggest otherwise. Finally, your point that we should not run around blind to the “perils” of terrorism must have been dashed off in haste. It proves too much. Taken as true, my actions were correct and beyond reproach. Once again, camcorder use in taping infrastructure is beyond peradventure. It is suggestive of a known “peril”. Walking away and doing nothing would be consistent with being “blind and deaf”. Reporting it and letting someone else with the proper authority sort it out is the correct response.

Your point 5: You take it wrong. I lost family in the Towers, as many did that day. I am not inclined to discuss it further with you. I will point out that there is no “fashion” for September 11 and no one is flaunting anything. If you think that I am, and your eye is not “pleased”, go away and haunt someone else’s comment board.

Eric, no one is forcing you to read here. No one is forcing you to comment. But now, having spent some time in replying to you, I am clear that your comment is utterly bereft of common sense. I invite you, should you return to read my reply, to go elsewhere in the future. I decline to continue the discussion. I suspect I’ve just wasted my time.

Respectfully, etc.

Posted by: RP at September 18, 2004 04:45 AM

I think the main issue here is not wheather or not to NARC on suspicious people, but rather people should not be so paranoid, and know the actual laws. The rules of th MTA state that photography and videography IS permited unless flashes, lights, and tripods are used. You freaked out, had the police harass a technicaly inocent woman, possibly ruining her day, or week, or month. Just so YOU can say, "better safe than sorry". I commute everyday from Stamford to Grand Central, and work in Times Square. If you can't handel the everyday life of being in New York, one of them being, EVERYONE has and uses cameras, you should work or live somewhere else. The police should have responded in accordance as well, saying, "sorry ma'am this woman is not violating any rules of the MTA, but thank you for the tip we will keep an eye on her." Instead they pounced on her. Again, if the police that work in the MTA don't understand the law and are so quick to freak out, and in this case violate this poor woman's rights, they too are not forced to live and work in NYC. They too should move. I thinks it's ironic. You made an ambigious situation tense by involving the police. So now it IS a situation. This woman is now being interogated, and searched, (in front of more passers by) her video probably being watched from beginning to end. That's justice?

Posted by: W at March 23, 2005 10:54 AM

W, I decline to respond to you. I think that if you had read the extensive comment discussion on this point, you may not have made your comment. If you had and made the comment anyway, I have nothing to say to you. In any event, I think that the conversation can safely be closed. Suffice it to say that I disagree with you.

Posted by: RP at March 24, 2005 05:51 AM
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