"SEE SOMETHING, say something." It's a phrase that we've all heard thousands of times, especially post-9/11. Outfits like SEPTA and NJ Transit routinely run public service announcements that tell us to follow that simple advice. I'd like to know what exactly would qualify for something that we should report.
That question is really on my mind because of the news reports out of Redlands, Calif., from the neighbors of the husband-and-wife team that killed 14 people at a government office in San Bernardino, Calif. Aaron Elswick, whose friend lives on the street, told the media of the regret of people on the block who suspected something about the behavior of the shooters, but did not report anything to the police.
Elswick and others reported that neighbors saw a number of men recently at the house, the couple often working late at night in their garage, and a number of packages being delivered at their house. The packages may have contained the materials needed to produce 12 pipe bombs, a stockpile of tools to assemble explosives, 2,000 9 mm rounds and over 2,500 .223 caliber rounds that were found in their home. However, with all this, Elswick reported no call was made to the police because of fears of being accused of profiling.
Isn't this a great opportunity for public officials to say that the neighbors should have called the police? Wouldn't that have been the proper decision? Wouldn't that help people to do the right thing?
I asked my listeners: Would they have called the police? Several said they would be afraid of being seen by the police as bigots or haters because the couple were Muslims.
Columnist Michelle Malkin, writing at National Review, laid the blame for this problem at the feet of groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR has every right to advocate for Muslims so that they are not victims of harassment. However, Malkin notes that after seeing CAIR's bizarre press conference with the San Bernardino killers' family members: "You are not to be trusted. You put damage control above border control and jihad control."
There is a legitimate concern that there are people who hate Muslims and will use any opportunity to accuse or attack. However, the best defense against jihadists like the California couple are citizens who are alert and call the police. A great example is the store clerk who in 2007 turned in a tape that lead to the prosecution of the Fort Dix jihadists.
Every expert on national security that I've interviewed makes the point that ISIS is unlike the other terrorist groups. They are not focusing on massive attacks like 9/11. They are radicalizing people around the world and encouraging them to use whatever they can to attack and kill people. The first line of defense is not allowing jihadists to hide in plain sight.
This is the classic teachable moment. Public officials should use the statements of neighbors in Redlands to craft a message that fleshes out "If you see something, say something." Truly educate the public on when to alert authorities. Talk about asking neighbors if they are suspicious. Talk about how to report to the police.
Of course, President Obama can provide the most leadership on this. However, he often resorts to statements that indicate that he is most concerned with people harassing Muslims. His rhetoric over time almost exclusively zones in on that fear. This is not helpful.
So let me ask you a very direct question. Given the facts that the neighbors in Redlands, Calif., faced, would you call the police? Would you ask police to be aware of what you are seeing each day? Would you feel confident that you would be doing what a good citizen must do?
I would. Let me know if you would.
Teacher-turned-talk-show host Dom Giordano is heard weekdays