I felt helpless last week as I watched the events in Boston unfold. The loss of life deeply saddened me. There are no explanations, no justification for this act of violence that would make sense to the victims, or to anyone, really. And yet, I do want to understand. I want to know what motivated these people, not because I want to condone their violence, but rather because I believe that prevention is the only answer to ensuring safety. And effective prevention comes from trying to comprehend the motives and root causes of those who choose to flout our laws. I know it’s not the easiest thing to do (to understand, I mean). Call me a radical or a lefty if you want, but having worked in corrections, (horrible, horrible title for prisons) I know there are no solutions that don’t first begin with understanding.
So having said this, I must also say that I have been angry all week about the events in Boston. And trying to put a finger on it beyond the surface analysis has been difficult. Perhaps in this blog, I’ll come closer. I don’t know.
I know I was offended by the racism displayed in the web vigilantism, offended by the frenzied media coverage that followed last week’s bombing, and offended that we might never know why these people orchestrated this attack. It seems to me this (shoot first, ask questions later or the waiving of people’s right to a fair trial) happens far too often (think of Osama Bin Laden’s killing and burial at sea for example, or the people imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay). How can we figure out why people do what they do if we don’t go through legal due process?
As everyone knows by now, several photos were posted on line in those early days after the attack. It didn’t escape any intelligent person’s notice that most of the pictures that were circled in bright white by web vigilantes, indicating a potential suspect, were of people with dark skin. What motivates people to jump to conclusions about others? And who is next? What new trait will come under suspicion? Wearing dark glasses, gripping a cane, holding a blank stare?
This practice of turning in your neighbour or a stranger because of the colour of their skin or their religion smacks of Nazi Germany and other ethnic cleansing atrocities. Oh, sure you’ll say it’s a long way from marking a few pictures on the web to ethnic cleansing. In reply, I would say, it’s a slippery slope. We as a society have scoffed at the principles of due process in the guise of battling terror all too often.
The actions of the web vigilantes smack of bias and fear and a whole lot of narcissistic neediness to garner fifteen minutes of fame. Some will say they wanted to help. Everyone wants to be a hero, but none were made on the web last week.
Not that the professional media were any better. I’m not sure I can use the word professional in the same sentence as media after last week’s spectacle. I’m still scratching my head. What happened to impartial, factual reporting, the striving to provide an account of the truth?
The media (all outlets) acted like sharks at feeding time, striking in all directions, hedging their bets to be the first to report the big story, the new lead. Does a disaster merit the reporting of half-truths, lies?
And the breathless fury by which information was relayed, the stalking of police trying to do their job, the listening in on police radio chatter, the blow by blow accounts of the miniscule all seemed to me to be an attempt to reap the most sensationalistic angle. The reporting incited fear rather than understanding and was certainly more akin to a Tarantino film than real life. It was not the media’s finest hour. I can only hope this was a “one of’’ type of event and not standard practice.
To me, the government and police officials seemed to build on the city’s anxiety as well. Yes, I know their job and the decisions they make are difficult ones. And yes, I know explosives and loss of life were involved. And public safety was at stake. But, I simply can’t believe with all the technology at hand, and the fact that the older brother was in the FBI and CIA systems, not to mention the refugee/immigration/passport systems, the authorities couldn’t have found these people without making the photos public and setting in motion a car chase and ‘a gun battle’, as was described in the media, on public streets.
And for that matter, what does locking down an entire city tell its citizens? I don’t know. Maybe it was all necessary. Maybe it’s easier to be critical when you’re not making those life and death decisions. Then again, I’m thinking when you’re in a position of power, and making those life and death decisions, you need to think and rethink and think again before you make choices.
President Obama in his speech at the end of the week said justice had been served. How was justice served? It can’t be served when one suspect is killed, and the other left in a state where he may never be able to tell us what happened. It does nothing to improve our comprehension of those who resort to violence, and if we don’t learn from these experiences the Boston bombing is no more than a pointless blip in time, an event that captured our attention for a short while and made no difference at all in our ability to prevent future violence.
This conclusion is empty and unsatisfactory to those victims and survivors who lost so much in Boston. Perhaps I’ve now come full circle. Perhaps this is the real reason I’ve been so angry all week. No justice was served last week.
There were those who clapped and cheered when the suspect was caught. For me, it is far too early for celebration. Soul searching is what is necessary now. We will move forward without it. Sure. But, only at our peril.
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