Privacy SOS

On May 1, 2010 Aliou Niasse, a Sengalese Muslim street vendor, was the first person to notice the presence of a smoking van in Times Square, New York. He alerted two other street vendors, who alerted the police.

The police were able to trace the car’s ownership to Faisal Shahzad after getting his phone number from the woman in Connecticut who had sold it to him. They arrested him as he was attempting to fly to Dubai from JFK Airport. The 82 city-owned cameras ringing Times Square played no role in either pre-empting the attack or identifying the would-be attacker. Instead, according to the May 4 Washington Post, it appeared that the widely circulated video of a balding man seen taking his shirt off was of someone who “could be totally innocent” as New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly put it. Another, more useful video showing a man running away from the Pathfinder was, Kelly said, obtained from a tourist.

Two of the street vendors, one who was a Vietnam vet, were lauded as heroes in media coverage and by President Obama  – but Aliou Niasse was rarely mentioned.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.