Climate of fear in the Sunshine State…

For those who think that life in South Florida consists of lazy days at the beach, sipping poolside Mai Tais, or partying till dawn with South Beach hipsters and celebrities, while the rest of the country shivers in the cold and shovels snow, you will be pleased to find out that there is plenty of gloom and doom here, just like everywhere else.

Giant pythons, released by irresponsible reptile enthusiasts now slither through the Everglades; African killer bees, introduced by well-intended, but sadly mistaken, Brazilian scientists, are on the swarm; and now we face the invasion of the Giant Snails. Yes, I said Giant Snails. You can read about them here. To make matters even worse, the 2013 hurricane season is only days away, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting an active to extremely active season. The names of the upcoming storms have been posted, and one has to wonder which one (if any) will be retired in the wake of loss of life, and devastation, as have the names Katrina, and most recently, Sandy.

So with all this stuff out there to scare the beejesuz out of us, do we really need yet another government program to put us even more on edge than we already are? Apparently, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office believes that we do. The recently instituted, Community Partners Against Terrorism (CPAT) program, has been recently rolled out, complete with a sampling of the kind of behavior that we law abiding citizens should be on the lookout for. Among the behaviors we should be watching for, according to CPAT, are people taking pictures of bridges without a person in the picture.  One would think a savvy terrorist would simply deflect undo attention from his or her plot by simply placing a fellow terrorist in front of the camera.

In any case, I am starting to wonder if we really, really, need to be reminded to be on the lookout for just damned near anyone doing anything that we don’t do ourselves. A rowboat with a man lashing a package to the girders of a bridge certainly demands a call to the authorities, but to think that a hapless tourist, or student, or even some blogger like me, looking for a quick jpeg to upload for a paper, or blog, is at risk of being questioned by Sheriff’s deputies as to his or her motive is startling . And yes, I know that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear, and I don’t necessarily agree with that line of thought. There is plenty to fear when a fear induced police state impinges on the rights of an individual to conduct a peaceful activity in a public place.

New York City, perhaps numero uno in the list of likely terrorist targets, and undeniably the site of the most tragic terrorist attack on U.S. soil, is home to some of the most photographed bridges and buildings in the world, as is San Francisco, Boston and Chicago.

Perhaps in the wake of the tragedy in Boston earlier this year, we are all a bit more on edge, at least at public events and in public places. A week or so after the Boston Marathon bombing, I was at a large South Florida shopping mall. It was lunch time and the food court was filled with people. I couldn’t help but notice a young man rushing through the mall lugging a backpack. A half dozen people stopped what they were doing and  watched him pass with eyes riveted. One lady looked absolutely terrified. Suspicious? I thought not – but then again,  his activities were probably as suspicious as some guy taking a picture of a bridge. Here’s the non sequitur – young men with backpacks were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, therefore young men with backpacks are terrorists – that’s paranoia setting in.

A short time later, I spotted the young man with the backpack riding a bicycle, turning onto the campus of Florida Atlantic University, a mile down the road. Obviously, he was a young college student late for a class and had to stop at the mall for something or other. Since bicycles do not offer a secure compartment into which one can lock ones valuables, the young student was therefore forced to lug his backpack through the mall.

So there you go, and that’s what I am thinking about today – at what point do the vigilant  become the paranoid? I am thinking of other things too, but I don’t want to come off too grumpy. I think the early arrival of the rainy season is affecting my mood, so enough for now; dark storm clouds are on the horizon, and I have got to go prepare for Hurricane Season.

Stay alert – stay safe – stay sane.

Mahalo,

Ed