If You See Something, Say Something

On my way to work every morning I pass a bus stop that has been driving me crazy for months.  Hanging in the bus stop is a poster with one ominous looking (dark skinned) man in the foreground and two women behind him staring with fear in their eyes.  The poster reads, “If You See Something, Say Something.”

This poster, along with other marketing strategies, is part of a wider anti-terrorist campaign in larger cities, and in DC most recently this has been taken on by the Metropolitan Police Department and DC city government.  The slogan “If You See Something, Say Something,” is actually owned by the Metropolitan Transit Department of the city of New York, which has given permission for cities all over the world to use their slogan.

Every morning for months I’ve passed this poster, and every time I see it I feel a strong sense of disquiet. 

It’s not that I’m a particular supporter of terrorist activities; rather I think I feel very uncomfortable with what seems like an exploiting of peoples’ deep fears, contributing to the anonymity and isolation of life in a big city, and encouraging us to be suspicious of groups of people who have already been unfairly stereotyped in the media.

To be honest, the poster reminds me of posters I have seen in the National Holocaust Museum.  Did I mention disquieting?

It seems to me that the work of the Gospel is, in part, to bring disparate groups together, to break down differences, to help us see each other with new and generous eyes that alight on the many things we share in common instead of the differences that breed fear, insecurity, and violence among us.  Learning to live radically and inclusively, seeing the world through eyes of love instead of fear…these will far encompass the limitations that fear and division impose.  Jesus was the one who came to teach us, after all, that love is more powerful than hate…remember?

A group of artists in New York City responded to the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign in their city by creating a competing logo that reads, “If You Fear Something, You’ll See Something.” 

And, I think I prefer their poster. 

I would rather live believing in God’s dream of a world where people default to actions of love, instead of sitting at a bus stop every morning with my world shrinking steadily as I shiver with the fear of seeing something.

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  • http://johntaylor.co John Taylor

    I know that part of our post-9/11 world is that we are to be more vigilant of these things, but I think sometimes the constant refrain has a numbing effect — the exact opposite of the intent of such messages.

    The artists’ message is a good counterbalance and perhaps will make those who hear it a bit less susceptible to that numbing. And that’s something the transit authorities and others should support.

  • Dolly Smith

    This helps me to put words to the question asked of me yesterday… How does living a contemplative life help transform a city? I heard in your writing that we are to love one another as we love ourselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if the poster could say “Respond as if it were you”… so if a person is being mugged on the subway don’t sit and watch in fear, respond as if you were the assailant and the victim. It makes me wonder how I can use language that encourages love, not fear in all of daily encounters. Thanks for pushing my thinking…

  • Michael Daugherty

    How much of the enabling of the 9/11 terrorists was enabled by someone being suspicious, but deciding that saying something was “racist”? Want to learn to fly…but don’t care to learn to land? Hmmmmm See, “behavioral profilling” is a cornerstone of modern law enforcement. It doesn’t have to do with color, or race…or anything but patterns of behavior. Jesus didn’t keep quiet about the Pharisee’s behavior, because they were Jewish. He didn’t give the money changer’s a break because they were “the norm”…and he didn’t keep quiet about the woman at the well, because she was foreign either…Jesus saw things, and SAID something about them. Your point is pointless…the same Christ you point to as a “loving and forgiving example”, also spoke out about behavior that was dangerous…this battle with terrorism ISN’T about race or religion…its about patterns of behavior that led to THOUSANDS of being killed in NYC…AND all around the world. So, yeah, don’t assume a middle eastern person is a terrorist…but don’t look the other way, if terrorist behavior is obvious. Someone’s life may be on the line.

  • Good Will

    Michael D. Good point but the way we have operated as a society would normally encompass being suspicious of obviously nefarious behaviour, however there are two points that should be considered:

    We operate with an underlying frame of mind that in a healthy society one can assume that most people are not criminals and most people are just trying to do the right thing and survive.

    Shift that over to a completely different frame of mind and suddenly the most mundane and innocent events that would normally be ignored are deemed “suspicious”.

    This leads to an underlying assumption that most activities should be scrutinized for criminal behaviour. In your example Jesus spoke out when he KNEW that something was wrong, not just on baseless assumptions.

    If you want to live in a country where every little thing you do is watched with narrow distrustful eyes, than it is a sad state of affairs we have come to.

  • http://411newyork.org/forum/ New York Forum

    May we copy the image? We’ll link back (see below) to your article as a thank you.


  • http://wilson-chapel.com Alex Oberneder

    Just read your sermon R-E-S-P-E-C-T loved it!