In these times of terrorism, threats get made all the time. The issue is how to respond – to keep the public safe, but also not disrupt daily life for no good reason.
We saw two very different reactions play out in real time Tuesday to the claims of planned attacks on the nation’s two largest public school systems.
New York City officials quickly decided the threat was a hoax and said it would be a disservice to children – and to the country – to close its schools.
But in Los Angeles, officials found the threat credible enough to shut down all 900-plus campuses, before classes started for some 700,000 students.
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The investigation may conclude that L.A. leaders overreacted to a hoax. But with the San Bernardino massacre so fresh in their minds and copycat attacks not uncommon, it’s unfair to second-guess them. They had to make a call quickly, so who can blame them for playing it safe?
An email, sent to several L.A. Unified School Board members, threatened shootings and implied explosives as well. Authorities planned to search all schools for backpacks and packages, a huge and time-consuming task. Many parents had to scramble to take care of their kids. Students and teachers will have to adjust exam and class schedules.
“I could not take the chance,” said L.A. Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
On the other side of the country, New York officials said they assumed a similar emailed threat wasn’t real because it made “outlandish” claims. The anonymous writer, claiming to be a high school student who had been bullied, warned that 138 comrades would attack every school with machine guns, pressure-cooker bombs and nerve agents.
“These threats are made to promote fear,” New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton tweeted.
He’s right: One goal of terrorism is to make us cower. We can’t let that happen.
But the dismissive attitude of New York officials and their criticism of L.A. officials isn’t helpful, either. Terrorists want to divide us, and the only way to defeat them is to stay united.