It goes without say that the Boston Marathon bombing was horrific. The fact that it was so unexpected made it even more terrible. There was confusion, fear, blood and death. There were memories, flashbacks, and questions like, “Is it happening again?”
Events reached a climax on Friday, when one of the suspects was killed and the other taken into custody. As everything began to calm down, I couldn’t help but think:
The terrorists achieved their goal. We were terrorized.
The Tsarnaev brothers awoke a fear in us, a reminder of the constant state of alert we have remained in since 9/11. The media went on its quest for answers, and posited that it could be anyone from a White Nationalist to Kim Jong Un.
Pundits seem to like to perpetuate this state of fear, and for an extremely fitting example, see LZ Granderson’s article at CNN.com, which ends with the line, “Nothing will be the same”. In his article, he cites all the various fears that he, and by extension his audience, experience on a daily basis.
No one seemed to notice that two other things happened on April 15th that pertain to our foreign policy: 42 people were killed in Iraq, the country we attempted to “stabilize”, and chemical weapons were confirmed to have been used in Syria, which was the punditfied “red-line” that would provoke action from President Obama.
News clips from abroad and articles like Mr. Granderson's were disconcerting enough, but then I saw the video pictured above, in which police searched civilians’ homes. It felt like watching news from another country, except it was happening here at home.
The day after the bombing in New York, there were hundreds of police roaming the streets, 77 calls of suspicious packages, more bag checks in subways, and an increased sense of alert with tentative anxiety. A week later the cops are still there in greater numbers than before. A result of 9/11 was that our civil liberties have been consistently questioned in regards to their necessity. With the Shoe Bomber, Fort Hood, Aurora, every terrible act of violence or fear-creation is followed well-intentioned push for more surveillance to keep us safe. That is not to say that these feelings of aren’t warranted; they are, just what is the result if we take them too far?
Here at home, we have lost our civil liberties with The PATRIOT Act, we have violated the rights of due process, increased crackdowns on those who speak out against governmental misconduct, and increased the sense of fear that it could happen again, to anyone, anywhere. Never forget.
This is in no way intended to diminish what happened, but the fear mongering of the media in the wake of events like this needs to be diminished. Whenever there is a tragedy, be it Newtown, The Boston Marathon, Aurora, or Fort Hood, the emotional response is to react with anger, sadness, and fear. These reactions are natural, but the media response usually serves to perpetuate these feelings instead of keeping the public informed of the facts.
We need to ask ourselves one question:
What could we have done differently to prevent that from happening?
Sadly, there was not anything that the people of Boston could have done to prevent this from happening on that day. We can point to Suspect 1, now known as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, being questioned in 2011 by the FBI and blame poor judgement. But the runners, the children, the civilians, the first responders had no such responsibility or ability to control it.
During times like this we should not divine answers from the sound bites we hear. Before the Tsarnaev brothers were suspects, there was the mysterious Saudi man who ran from the marathon explosion. Depending on which account you read , this man has either been cleared as having no involvement or possibly deported. This innocent man had his home searched, and was subjected to a profiling error by the media. The New York Post ran pictures of two completely innocent bystanders, asking if they were the bombers. Questions were being raised as to whether or not we should allow Saudis to have special travel status, if North Korea was behind it, or if it was an inside job. There were suspicions on the internet about a hooded man on a roof near the scene, was he responsible? There was a theory for just about everything you could imagine.
It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration reacts as this legal process unfolds, but we’ve already seen a taste of things to come. The Boston P.D. deserves praise for a job well done, but it is extremely concerning that we mobilized an army large enough to defend a small nation to capture a 19-year old “pothead” who was tweeting while running from the police. This same army went into people’s homes without warrants, performed searches, shut down a city, essentially imposing martial law. Tanks, SWAT teams, and aircraft were used. One of the main reasons why this is a problem:
The Army isn’t what caught Suspect 2.
What caught Suspect 2, AKA Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was a citizen who noticed something was wrong with his boat. What helped were the thousands of concerned individuals on the internet who used Reddit to post the most update information, who were tweeting status from police scanners, and helping break news as fast as the speed of light. While there were things on these sites that were wrong, there was also CNN, who has continued to show its desire for media coverage by breaking stories when they aren’t true.
In our search for answers, we found ones we didn’t want. In our fear, we briefly lost sense of responsibility towards each other. People had their pictures publicized with no wrong doing; the media complicit in these actions. In the name of safety, we let the police force invade our homes without a warrant. It is always in the name of safety that we surrender a right, and always in the name of safety that they remain surrendered. Was that show of military might effective at catching Suspect 2? I’m not sure it was, but what the United States managed to show the world is how far they could go in a time of crisis on their own land.
This event has already brought forth many Constitutional questions, about Miranda rights, about the way homes were searched, how Tsarnaev should be tried, and many others may still arise. These issues will be sorted out in time, and the media may or may not report them as they happen. But there are people who are aware. A friend and follower of @urbnlibertarian said,
“Glad we got him alive. Trial is going to be a circus, but it's the right thing to do. That's why we're different. That's why we're better.”
In the show of centralized power, there was a silver lining. What military might and advanced technology failed to achieve was what average Americans around the country accomplished through communication and a unified spirit. We felt for Boston, and we were able to express that through Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and all the other forms of communication that brought us together. We kept each other up to date on what happened, all in the name of justice for our fellow Americans who were murdered on April 15th, 2013. We didn’t do it because our government told us to. We did it because that’s the American way.