Archive for April, 2013


For Bostonians, Patriot’s Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts and the day of the Boston Marathon, falls somewhere between Boston’s birthday celebration and the official kick-off of spring. Like many holidays (especially those exclusive to Massachusetts, and there are a few others), we don’t always remember the original reason for the holiday, often only appreciating it as a day off.  There is however something special about “Patriot’s Day.” It feels so central, so part of our core heritage–a celebration of what it means to be from Boston and what Boston is (at least should be) about–liberty and freedom.

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We share Boston with America.  It’s a town so many people love. It’s a place where so many people have had some sort of life shaping experience–either as a student or a visitor–and therefore hold some part of Boston close to their hearts. It represents the old and new of America.  Add to that, every American school child grows up learning about events in Boston which shaped the American Revolution, Paul Revere’s midnight ride and so on. And so everyone carries a Boston in their mind.  The Boston Marathon is a day where the eyes of the nation and the world are on the city. It’s a day that hosts more guests from around the U.S. and around the world than any other time. That is Boston at its best. A day that comes closest to realizing Winthrop’s grand vision of Boston as a “city upon a hill”.  If you grew up in Boston, it is impossible not to have some sort of memory of the Boston Marathon.

All of that was shattered however on Monday, April 15th, after a bomb exploded at the finish line of the marathon, killing three people and wounding at last count upwards of 150 people.  Boston’s relationship with the rest of the country has been forever changed. Perhaps not since the days of the Boston massacre has empathy and support of Boston been at such a height.

For most Americans, comparisons to 9/11 are inevitable, although the differences in loss of life and scope and size could not be more stark. But still, it is impossible not to think about that other day our peace was shattered, the sadness, the tears, the fear and finally–the anger.  One only hopes that we can conduct ourselves with the dignity and discipline that New Yorkers kept themselves after their tragedy.  Most importantly, the sense of unity that was expressed  (at least for a short while) that brought all Americans together.  Much like what we heard in the days and weeks after 9/11, the national tone about the bombings has been one of healing, sobriety, and national unity. On Monday, everybody’s hometown was Boston.

The imagery alone is staggering.  The explosion occurred behind all of the flags, not just the American flag, but flags of all the nations represented in the race.  Nevermind the obvious symbolism of a bomb going off in the heart of the “cradle of liberty” where freedom was born, on Patriot’s day, a day in which the American spirit of independence is celebrated not only in Boston, but due to the major international participation, around the world. It is an international event on par with the Olympics or the Super Bowl.

As the nation continues to come to grips with what happened, questions are being asked. Questions such as who did this? Why did they do it? What did they hope to accomplish? How will we overcome it as a nation?  Answers will not be easily forthcoming. Perhaps the question we should be asking however concerns something a bit more complicated. How can we conduct this hunt for answers while remaining unbiased and not falling for the temptation to make assumptions.

Perhaps it’s too early to begin to speculate on these kinds of issues.  For most people, this is just a time to mourn the victims, pray, heal and find solace in how much worse it could have been.  But, we cannot bury our heads in the sand either. One of the regrettable aspects of the wake of 9/11 was the discrimination and acts of violence (though scattered and denounced by most everyone) that were committed against Arab-Americans and other minorities who also became targets.

Issues of race and ethnicity have already crept into the discussion. Only hours after the bombing, The Root tweeted the fact that the description of one of the possible responsible party was issued and contains a description of a darker-skinned or black male.

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It is far too early to even begin to speculate on how race may enter the equation, but in terms of the ongoing manhunt as I write this, certain things are fair game to consider.  The two suspects who have been identified by law enforcement officials as brothers, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed in a shootout, are apparently from Chechnya, a long-disputed, predominantly Muslim territory in southern Russia.  They are hardly consistent with the “Darker-skinned or black male” descriptions used in an early law enforcement advisory about the bombing suspects which was picked up by certain media outlets.  A San Diego AM Radio station KOGO 600 posted this on their Facebook page soon after the media released video surveillance pictures of the suspects.

KOGO 2For me, on the day of the Marathon bombing, to borrow the eternal words of James Baldwin, “my dungeon shook”.  Perhaps for the countless others whose dungeons were also shaken on April 15th, something else was shaken that perhaps needed to be shaken–our complacency. Terrorism is not over. If nothing else happens perhaps this will be a wake up call that we must stay ever vigilant. How Obama and other leaders handle this atrocity in the days ahead (especially those who will be made from this tragedy–there’s an important mayoral race coming up in Boston) will speak volumes about how we deal with terrorism going forward.