The purpose of terrorism is to instill fear on its victims, to create enough of a climate of insecurity to make people interrupt their daily activities in fear of a sudden attack. It is the responsibility of the local authorities to evaluate the seriousness of a threat, a task that requires achieving a delicate balance between maximum security and going about life as usual.
A example is today’s precautionary closing of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) after receiving emails containing threats of supposed attacks with bombs and assault weapons by Islamic terrorists at multiple schools. In contrast, New York’s school authorities made the decision to interpret a similar threat as “non credible” and discarded it, allowing schools to remain open. The New York City Police Commissioner and ex-LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, deemed the LAUSD response as “a significant overreaction.”
The decision made by LAUSD is undoubtedly influenced by the fresh memory of the massacre in San Bernardino two weeks ago ‒ located an hour away from Los Angeles. The tragedy, which left 14 dead, produced a profound feeling of insecurity among the population. The narrative says that, if the Islamic extremist sympathizers acted at an event as local as a meeting of city employees, then no one is really safe.
The LAUSD case also reveals the difficulties of guaranteeing absolute safety. The goal of District Superintendent Ramón Cortines is to examine the facilities of over 900 schools. If this is to be done thoroughly, that means searching the lockers of 700,000 students. This would be a gargantuan task, even if the intention to assure parents that their children are safe at school is noble and understandable.
To err on the side of caution is generally good policy. It is best to be safe and at ease ‒ even if that means that terror has briefly won a battle ‒ because fear makes us change course. Today’s events presented two different decisions. Although they were made very quickly, each was influenced by different circumstances. They are both two sides of the same issue today, which is fighting terrorism.