Boston was a city that had artificially seized up – made motionless and frozen in fear by 24 hour coverage. That same 24 hour news coverage, with its instantaneous updates, and conjecture-as-news, as exhausting as it was, provided us with a few valuable insights. The media and the government both showed themselves as highly amateurish at times, but perhaps most instructive, the resilience and ability of Americans to stand together in dire times was also shown. We saw both the best, and at times, the worst of humanity.
It is an easy claim that the Tsarnaev brothers were the most vile and inhumane criminals we have seen in some time. Although, not killing nearly as many innocent people as the gutless cowards of 9/11/2001, the Tsarnaevs’ methods were much, much more personal. It is very doubtful that any of the 9/11 terrorists knew any of their 3,000 victims, beyond sitting down beside them on a plane that day, and the victims were a part of a group – victim to both terror, and the randomness of a terribly, macabre, draw. The Boston Marathon bombers carefully chose their spots and their victims, including an innocent 8-year old boy and his family.
The greatest reactions were of the people – who immediately after the tragedy, where seen treating the injured, giving solace to victims in shock, and transporting casualties blocks to the nearest ambulances. When the government ordered people to stay inside, and yet, help with the manhunt, by reporting anything that they saw – it was then that the people came through with the most important tip of the manhunt. The hull of a small boat was the location of Djhokhar’s last free breaths.
Nearly as disgusting as the Tsarnaevs themselves, was the media. Constantly jumping from one allegation or anonymous leak to another, they cannot have helped in the hunt for Dzhokhar. They were also slow to report, perhaps getting nervous when an embarrassed CNN reported incorrect information, and had to apologize. Various members of the press, whether officially representing their employers or not, showed incredible amounts of racism and bigotry. People like Salon’s David Sirota hoped for the bombers to be white Americans. People like MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry denied Islam had any connections with the violent acts. Indeed, in their hurry to receive air time and acclaim, the media personalities doubled down on political correctness, and did not seem to double-check at all.
Government played both two roles in the Boston tragedy: it was both heroic capturing force, who marshaled so many resources to catch mysterious terrorists, and heavy-handed ogre, telling people to stay inside their homes, when no one seemed sure where the terrorist was. For sure, the lasso thrown around Boston seemed to tighten the senses of fear and anxiety, in both the innocent citizenry, and the police force responsible for an extraordinary task: finding suspects who had already killed one officer, and had exchanged fire with them. The police did get their man, but the so many tense moments had a high cost to everyone involved.
Perhaps the most important take-away here is that government showed itself, again, as a mechanism of re-activity not pro-activity. Despite government’s regulations, and recent increased calls for gun control, the Tsarnaevs scoffed at those past laws and regulations, and procured and used weapons against police. The government assures us, passing new legislation will be different – the future terrorists and criminals will follow these new rules.
Will anything change? Will the media report more slowly, and more carefully? Will the citizenry be more willing to report suspicious people? I hope. The images of an innocent, naked man face-down in the street,massed, flashing red and blue lights, bloody sidewalks, and police with determined, clinched jaws should not soon be forgotten.