December 3rd, 2015
From Sarin in the Tokyo subways to anthrax in the post offices of the Eastern Seaboard in the USA, biological injuries are not to be ignored. The public is remarkably reticent about reporting these problems despite a frightening familiarity with headache onset at the dry cleaner, dizziness at the nail salon and nausea when passing a freshly fertilized lawn. The frequency of chemical exposure is so great that many individuals can’t recall what their baseline for ‘feeling fine’ was before the neighbors tented their homes for termites.
When you go to an airport, this announcement can be heard around the clock: “If you see something, say something”.
The first report I made about possible terrorism was made in Boston’s Tip O’Neill Federal building, back in 2008. After a room of people awaiting passports appeared grossly uncomfortable, red-faced and coughing up a storm, I witnessed a woman leave the room and followed her. We entered the bathroom where she tossed a foul-smelling paper into a toilet and ran like hell out the door and down the corridor. Reflexes dictated I pursue her and I later showed her photo to a guard near the passport office. He said he’d call security but didn’t appear to be in a hurry about it.
The next time I made a report of this nature was in London, a few months ago. Enroute to my hotel near Gatwick airport, I knelt down by a camera-guarded waiting area with benches to tie my belongings more strongly to my luggage trolley. A moment later, a young man stooped next to my position and shoved an orange plastic sack against my face. Moist air rushed onto my skin accompanied by the crackling sound of a plastic bottle being squeezed. He ran off and I rose, rather astonished. Making my way to the taxi area, I began to feel very nauseated and dizzy. Upon seeing the security desk, I determined my best option was to file a report with the authorities. A West Sussex police officer arrived about twenty minutes after the station was called by local transit police. He was taking my statement when his phone buzzed, informing him that another person was waiting elsewhere in the airport to make an identical complaint. We rapidly finished the paperwork and I was sent an incident report number the next day. It’s true that reporters of these types of events are rarely given the results of such investigations but that doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of making those reports.
My third report was in Jerusalem last week. While reading in the lobby of a hostel, a man who had been coming and going throughout the day stopped at the front desk around closing time. He pulled an envelope from his pocket and, oddly enough, ripped it partially open without removing anything from it. He left it atop the rim of a waste can near my seat and a sickly-sweet odor wafted from it. This being Israel, we take all oddities as potential dangers so I wrapped the envelope in several layers of plastic and taped it securely. The next day, I dropped it off at a police station as a suspicious substance. Hopefully, somebody will email the results of their findings.
I believe that too many individuals fear to make reports because they might be called ‘crazy’ or ‘paranoid’. It’s simply the normal response in a world whose daily headlines daily scream that terrorism and outright warfare are happening. Perhaps fewer real incidents would happen if each one were pursued appropriately. The police would rather see these over-reported than ignored.