Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
Vendors and Tourists Take Bomb Scare in Stride
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Times Square had a very close call this weekend. An SUV packed with improvised explosives failed to go off, but officials say that if it had, it may have caused significant damage to the surrounding area, which was filled with tourists. The police and federal investigators are currently examining the vehicle for evidence and poring through surveillance video in the area.
WNYC's Arun Venugopal breaks down what happened and how tourists and vendors in the area are responding:
As you understand it, what was the sequence of events?
Vendors in the area noticed the Pathfinder. Duane Jackson, who sells t-shirts, saw something was not right.
"So immediately I looked around," Jackson says. "Whose car is this? At that same time the mounted police came around the corner. They were like, whose car is this? We said we don't know whose car it is. Slowly after that, the smoke started coming from the back."
Jackson says he ran down the street and watched as more police were called in and, eventually, a police bomb-squad robot went to work on the car.
Who and what the authorities are looking for now?
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly held a press conference yesterday to provide an update. "We're currently examining video that shows a white male in his 40s, in Shubert Alley, looking back in the direction of West 45th street. He also was seen shedding a dark-colored shirt, wearing a red one underneath," Kelly said.
He said police had gone through video from some 30 of the city's surveillance cameras, out of more than 80 in the area. They'll also be looking at video from cameras owned by private businesses in the neighborhood.
In a worst case scenario, a lot of people could've been hurt by this car bomb. You spoke to a number of tourists from around the world -- how did they feel to be caught up in something like this?
The tourists I spoke to were not all that fazed, on the whole. Within hours of Times Square re-opening to traffic, it appeared to be as crowded as ever. Many tourists praised the NYPD for getting the area back on its feet.
Kary Jablonka was visiting from upstate New York. He says that it's important to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. "The world is full of crazy people, whether they have a political agenda or some psychologically driven agenda. They're going to do things. And if we let that intimidate that us, then they win," Jablonka says.
Bev Burke from Rochester hadn't spent much time in NYC before. "But I'll tell you, today, I feel like 'I love New York City!'" she says. "I want to come back. It's cool, and everybody has taken things in stride. Business is taken care of. I think it's cool."
Some Marriott visitors who were displaced and moved into a banquet room for a number of hours did say they were frustrated by their experience.
Despite the hundreds of surveillance cameras in midtown, with many more to come in the years ahead, it was finally a couple vendors who caught this. You spoke to a couple of them. What did they have to say?
Well, Ron Johnson, a vendor and a veteran, says the vendors in the area operate as an informal security network.
"First of all, we have military training," Johnson says. "We're extra eyes and ears out here, at all times. But we don't get that kind of recognition from the city -- until something like this happens."