Boston Maraton - What We Do Next Will Define Us

Image Credit afritos93
My friend said "Hey let's go watch the Marathon". That's how I ended up there the day I moved to Massachusetts 14 years ago. It seemed like a somewhat odd thing to do, but the moment I saw Guy With Beer Hat Motivator running next to a guy in a Santa Claus outfit it was clear that this was more than just a race. It was a deeply rooted city tradition.

Every year I've said I was going to take the day off and go see the Marathon, and every year for 13 years I've found myself consumed by work and missed it. This year was no different.

Then the bombs went off and four days later the city of Boston was shut down as the authorities tracked the suspects. Through determination and a little luck the Boston PD managed to catch one of the suspects alive and the feeling of relief was palpable as people took to the streets to cheer the police.

That week of immense tension is behind us and many would say that Boston handled it very well. Happy Gilmore quite accurately pointed out:

"Boston is probably the only major city that  if you fuck with them, they will shut down  the whole city...stop everything.. and find you."

There's probably a good debate to be had as to whether we should have instantiated martial law. In my opinion, if Bostonians had been out on the streets a lot more people likely would have hurt each other, by accident, while we hunted the suspect. Moreover, the suspect would most certainly have been beaten to death with his own limbs and wouldn't have been able to answer any questions. So all in all, I think the authorities made the right call.

But now the immediate crisis has passed and we have to decide how we will react in the aftermath. What we do next, how we treat this suspect, and how we react to these events is what defines us as Americans.

In the past we've made some very bad decisions in the aftermath of tragedy. For example: The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the torture of detainees after September 11th 2001.

Note: If there's any question in your mind about whether we tortured people you can get a clear as day "Yes. Lots of people, and it didn't produce any useful intelligence." from the recently released bipartisan report at  If you're not up for reading, the Daily Show did a chilling 4 minute overview of the report.

With the immediate Marathon crisis over, we need to take a breath and think. Do we want to repeat the mistakes of our past, or should we demonstrate how Americans hold true to our ideals?

I ask because we already have people saying the sorts of reactionary things that lead us to the mistakes of internment and torture. For example:

  • Senator Lindsey Graham and others are calling on the President to classify the suspect, a Naturalized American Citizen, an Enemy Combatant. That's basically the play we run in order to justify torturing people.   
  • Meanwhile, Representative Peter King, who chairs the House subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, is saying we need to surveil Muslims and treat Chechnya as a front in the war on terror because the suspect was a Muslim and an Ethnic Chechen. That's the exact sort of sound logic that had us locking up Japanese Americans in WWII.  

We've done these sorts of things before and history has shown them to be grave mistakes.

Let me be clear. This 19 year old bomber is an unconscionable douchebag of the highest order. With acknowledgment to the fact that he's technically innocent until proven guilty, he has already been shot in the neck and leg, and it's safe to say he's never going to see the outside of a very dark prison again in his life. Furthermore, if there's any karmic justice in the universe, this kid is going to end up as Jerry Sandusky's cell mate.

His fate is sealed, but ours isn't. What we do next defines us.

Whether he experiences our existing laws or some made up reactionary process will not define him. It will define who we are as Americans. Moreover it will signal to the world the kind of a people we really are.

For that reason it is more important that we stay true to our laws and values now, with this horrible suspect, more than ever. Only under stress can the real measure of a people be taken. Only under stress can we prove to ourselves, and the world, that the American ideals really have meaning.

The people of Boston ran to help the bombing victims, and worked together flawlessly under extreme stress to capture the suspect alive. Boston citizens and their police rose to the occasion so admirably that it far exceeds my ability to put their actoins into words.

I for one want America to be a country that responds admirably and holds to its ideals in the aftermath as well. We must remain true to our laws and values as we prosecute this suspect. Furthermore, we can't let the actions of a few sick people trick us into isolating people of a similar ethnicity or religion as the suspects. To do so would be to fail to uphold the ideals of our country. It dishonors the people that fight and have fought to protect this country, and it signals to the world that the ideals we speak of really don't matter even to us.

To that end I have a few suggestions:

  • Words to Heed - Take the president's words to heart. "When a tragedy like this happens … it's important that we do this right. That's why we have investigations. That's why we relentlessly gather the facts. That's why we have courts. That's why we take care not to rush to judgment -- not about motivations of individuals, certainly not about entire groups of people." - President Obama Friday April 19, 2013.  Three specific things we can do here:
    1. Learn from 9/11 - Lock Lindsey Graham in a room with a history book and refuse to let him out until he can explain why the idea of naming American Citizens enemy combatants, in order to extract information out of them, doesn't work and is a really bad idea.  
    2. Don't Blame an Entire Religion - Representative Peter King wants to increase surveillance on Muslims because the suspect is a Muslim. Listen to the reaction of the suspects Uncle being interviewed last week. He's a Muslim too and seems like a very good guy. If we're going to stereotype an entire religion, why not stereotype based on him instead of his nephew.  
    3. Pick Better Leaders - For the sake of national security, and our country's soul, have Representative Peter King fitted with a permanent ball gag. While technically it is his first amendment right to say things that history has repeatedly proven to be horrible ideas, it's his job to lead and based on the things he's saying we'd all be better off if he just stopped talking. 
  • Miranda Rights - Don't worry about the fact that we didn't read the suspect his Maranda Rights. Legally the government doesn't have to read a suspect their Maranda rights. It's just that if rights aren't read the government can't use what a suspect says against him in court. Orin Kerr did a great writeup on Tsarnaev and Miranda Rights. So the question is "Are we going to have to let this guy off because we didn't read him his rights?" And the answer is "No." Based on the piles of evidence coming from the events of this week including shootout that took place on the boat where he was taken into custody, we won't need this suspect to confess to anything to prove him guilty. So skip Maranda and get every bit of information out of him we can (without torturing him). It won't change his fate and it might help ours.
  • Use the Perspective We Didn't Want - Take a moment to think about how horrible the Marathon Bombing was... Really think about it. Now consider the fact we have killed 160 civilian children in Pakistan with 242 drone bombings since May of 2010. (Source) This isn't meant as a comparison, but as a chance for us to use the horrible gift of perspective that was forced on us this week.  With this first hand knowledge of what it feels like to have someone blow up your fellow citizens, can you imagine how angry families of drone bombing victims must be with us when we bomb them once every 4.5 days? Perhaps it's time we stop bombing civilians ourselves. 

This past week has left a painful mark on Boston, but it also revealed the stellar character of this city and its people. It's my sincere hope that we continue to show that same character in the months that follow.

Milk Bubble Blowing - No Contest

We had an impromptu bubble blowing contest at lunch today. It all started when Conner did what came naturally with a cup of chocolate milk and a straw.

Having never understood why blowing bubbles is discouraged, I embraced my inner child and cheered him on. Alex and Allison quickly joined in.

It turned into a bit of a contest. We rated the kids on best blowing sound effects and sheer bubble volume, Conner won. It wasn't even close.