The NYC Attack: Let’s Not Rush to Ban Driving By Drew Kinney
The act of terrorism that claimed eight lives in Lower Manhattan is sad and regrettable. The argument I’m about to make is not intended to downplay the tragedy these victims and their families have faced. This was a despicable act of murder. It was also desperate.
Let’s not act like this was more than a desperate act of murder. If we treated these acts as common crime—vehicular manslaughter—than they’d probably stop.
This kind of thing happens regularly. (If the attacker’s truck was yellow, New Yorkers might not have stopped to watch.) If a drunk driver in Omaha crashed into some railroad tracks and killed four people, police might charge the driver with vehicular manslaughter. Omaha’s press wouldn’t tell its readers they should fear cars. It is our collective fear about ISIS that gives this act a special flair. Columnists and news anchors elevate the fear, proclaiming we should now be wary of the new threat, this horrifying trend: cars!
Terrorist organizations are like advertising firms. They want a lot of people watching—the most PR—for the least cost. It’s probably a positive sign that the best attackers have in their repertoire is a truck and a pro-ISIS proclamation scribbled on a note in the passenger seat. Our society nevertheless gives unnecessary amounts of energy, attention, and fear to the act. That’s free advertising, which helps ISIS.
Politicians and the media, however, continue to stoke our fear. “This is a scary innovation!” No, it is not. Car attacks are a sign of weakness, not strength.
Yet this attack somehow justifies extreme measures—like eliminating an immigration lottery. A better moral and political strategy for lawmakers, like Donald Trump, is to demonstrate basic skills in comparative analysis by pointing out that the country is safer now under his leadership. “These ISIS people are so weak. They’re getting desperate, people. Sad!”
That would be a welcome Tweet. The best we can ever do is prevent major attacks, so we shouldn't be eager to trade liberties for security in the wake of the NYC attack. Unfortunately, we'd sooner ban cars and the roads they drive on than craft a healthy response to terrorism.
This article was updated at 10:20am, November 3, 2017.
Drew H. Kinney is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.