liz writes stuff down
19Sep/16Off

Liz rides the subway on September 19, 2016: Monday morning in New York and an emergency alert

Liz rides the subway is a series containing thoughts I have on the subway. On the 2 train to work, after watching two men of color have their bags searched at Grand Army Plaza:

I woke up today to my phone beeping in a pattern that wasn't my alarm:

WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.

The alert was about the manhunt for the suspect believed to be responsible for the explosion in Manhattan on Saturday night and an earlier bombing in New Jersey.

I don't know what the best practices are for identifying a suspect. I don't know the best ways to involve lay people in helping law enforcement locate that suspect.

Kaveh Waddell notes that this was the first time this type of emergency alert was used for a manhunt and mentions the technical limitations of these alerts:

90 characters—less than a tweet’s worth—and it doesn’t support attachments, like photos. (That’s why this morning’s alert had to point people to the media for the suspect’s photo.) Messages also can’t include tappable URLs or phone numbers.

Maybe that's why the alert only has an extremely basic description of a man with an Arabic sounding name.

I get phone alerts from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, other media; their push notifications also lack photographs. I didn't remember to look for a photo before hopping on the train and losing signal. (Honestly, I don't think I'd have trusted myself enough to identify him if I had a photograph anyway.) The technical limitations that prevent the inclusion of photographs create fear without even serving their intended purpose.

Instead, I think of the people I know who might fit the "5'6" 200-pound male with brown hair, brown eyes, and brown facial hair" description, about the two men of color I saw getting their bags searched at the station. They shouldn't have to change their daily routines.

These fears shouldn't be surprising. Subway ads casually depict commuters who sound like they are raising false alarms.

NYC law enforcement has a history of unconstitutional, aggressive racial profiling. Unarmed people of color are shot and killed by the police.

We need to do better.

The suspect was apprehended, and getting the public involved in the search wasn't a fruitless idea because that's how he was found. However, the bar owner identified him after watching CNN on his laptop, not from a push notification without a photo.

2Sep/150

Revised icebreakers for nicer New Yorkers

You go to a friend's party, attend a work event, or just find yourself out and about. You meet someone new, and you're inevitably asking and being asked three questions:

  • Where do you work?
  • Where do you live?
  • How much is your rent?

Okay, you don't always encounter that last one, especially outside of NYC, but there's a sinking spidey-sense when it's about to pop because you've run out of places to go with the other two.

Let's ditch that template for these improved icebreakers.

What have you been up to?

Work is a weird topic because not everyone loves their job at any given moment or generally feels like it's their main identity. If it is, they still can discuss it in response, but this question invites a much wider range of topics than asking about work directly. If they have something more relevant to talk about at the time, or just something they think will be more interesting to you, they can talk about that instead.

What's something you love about your neighborhood?

This opens the conversation up to so many more possibilities than "Where do you live?" and even covers that information along the way anyway! If there's not a natural lead towards this question, you can talk about how cool it is that there are so many different neighborhoods where you live and so much to explore.

If you find yourself in their neighborhood later, you can check it out! Maybe, if the conversation goes well and you want to get to know them better, you can suggest what they mentioned as a thing for you to do together.

I deliberately worded this as "What's something you love about your neighborhood?" instead of "What is your favorite thing about your neighborhood?" because trying to pick out your favorite can be overwhelming on the spot and the easiest beloved thing to talk about might not be that anyway.

Don't talk about rent.

Just don't. It's awkward, but more importantly, it's rude.

Talk about all the nifty things you just learned about them instead.