By Seth Eisenberg
At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Lance Orton, a Times Square T-Shirt Vendor and Vietnam veteran, alerted police to smoke fuming from the back seat of an S.U.V. parked awkwardly against the curb on 46th Street just off Broadway in downtown Manhattan, 3½ miles from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood.
Hours later, at a 2:15 a.m. press conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “We are very lucky. We avoided what could have been a very deadly event.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the government is treating the event as a potential terrorist attack.
Twelve hours after he first alerted police and helped save the lives of fellow New Yorkers, Lance Orton limped away from his T-Shirt stand wearing his white fedora and a hoop earring in his right ear. Asked if he was proud of his actions, he said: “Of course, man. I’m a veteran. What do you think?”
Although reluctant to speak with the media, Orton shared four words before heading off in a taxi, removing his fedora to fan his face from the morning heat: “See something, say something.”
More than a half century ago, surveying the horrific destruction and genocide of World War II, scientist Albert Einstein said: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
From Times Square to classrooms and neighborhoods across the globe, the role of bystanders has become the focus for efforts as diverse as fighting terrorism, reducing neighborhood crime, poverty, and homelessness, protecting family members and neighbors from domestic violence and abuse, and stopping school and online bullying that continues to claim young lives.
While rapidly evolving technologies have led us to the outer limits of space, ushered in an age of limitless possibilities for communication, interaction, and creativity, the need for every human to see, hear, care, speak out, and take action is more likely than ever to be the difference between life and death.