The recent anniversary of the catastrophic events of September 11th, 2001 has forced me to accept that some aspects of my
life were forever changed that day. In order to allow myself permission to cautiously move forward, personally and professionally,
in spite of terrorist alerts and additional threat warnings, I have begun to think in a new context---September 12th. Focusing
on this new date reminds us that for an indefinite period, we will have ever changing color-coded alerts, increased surveillance
and security, all in the name of the government's War on Terror. It's also taken me several years to realize that one person's
terrorist is another's freedom fighter
Fear and concern about the ongoing threat of future attacks has ironically become a great equalizer. We became more similar
to our clients than we had previously realized. Irregardless of one's race, ethnicity, educational or economic status, or
religion, just by living in the U.S. we were now quite possibly in harm's way. The instant the first plane hit the World Trade
Center, our vulnerability and expendability became evident. While the nation and the world watched in horror, people in the
northeast were confronted with three Ground Zero's: New York City, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.
Anthrax, weapons of mass destruction (WMD'S), Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden are all terms that existed prior to 9/11 and
were commonplace in the military sector. However, since that day they have beome part of civilian's day to day vocabulary.
The newly created concepts, terms and phrases are the "War on Terror", color coded alerts, airplanes used as missiles
and Department of Homeland Security. I realize I don't plan to live in a room covered in plastic and duct tape. When the color-coded
alert increases, I still wonder if this means I should put on an extra layer of clothes or put on a scarf. The U.S. government
has spearheaded laws and policies and prompted world governments to work toward eradication of terrorist cells, and thereby
their ability to launch additional attacks, particularly on U.S soil. These new directives inconvenience us, but we seem to
be getting used to them. It is open for debate as to whether or not we are any safer because of them. Longer, more complicated
security lines and procedures at airports and to enter buildings that "might be terrorist targets", increased surveillance
of citizens and an erosion of civil liberties have all become common place over the last four years.
|The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, prior to September 11th
While preparing to travel to Denver, Colorado for the APM the month after the attacks, I wondered if I should be flying. Reactions
of family and friends ranged from absolutely not to if you change the way you live your life out of fear, then "they"
have already won. Living in metropolitan New York, where we have essentially lived with a code orange alert status since that
day, made me really think about my choices. I was more angry than frightened, and ultimately decided Al-Qaeda would have to
come and get me, because I wasn't going to stop living for them nor any cause they had. It was actually during that period
that I decided, I didn't mind dying, but didn't want to do so, particularly when I was morally opposed to the group's methods
of getting attention and making a point. This is not to say that my decision was right for anyone else. Whoever these people
were and are, they had crossed my line in the sand.
While preparing to go through airport security on an early morning flight out of New York to the APM, I noticed essentially
all of my fellow travelers appeared to be business people. Everyone, including me was dressed in business attire and had briefcases.
Most had laptop computers. I was the only person of color that went through the check point during the period I was detained.
I was also the only person who had all belongings thoroughly searched. I concluded that this was another obstacle to overcome.
This was truly a new day. Upon arriving at the APM I informally checked with some colleagues from various states in the country,
and was surprised to learn a number of people of color had experiences similar to mine. In spite of this, I have no regrets.
It was a cathartic experience and helped me feel more empowered, both as a human being and as a social work professional.
Psychiatry, psychology, nursing and public health professions are all providing direction and working closely with U.S.
government agencies to: 1) develop best practices related to terrorism and 2) to prepare for intervention in case of future
attacks. The social work response has been uncharacteristically quiet. The social work profession however, has a rich tradition
of understanding and skills in work with all systems that impact on our clients. I believe we have an opportunity, no an
obligation to use our extensive knowledge and resources to: 1) work with our colleagues in other helping professions, 2) work
with governmental agencies to work towards diplomatic solutions, 3) develop best practice guidelines for social work professionals,
and 4) be in the vanguard, or at minimum central players as the nation moves forward during uncertain times, and with future
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