Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How We Respond To A Crisis.

This graphic touched me the most out of any internet meme following the Marathon bombings last week. It was designed by Aaron Bouvier of Hairpin Communications, and proceeds of the sale of merchandise bearing the logo will go to the One Fund Boston.

Out of all the graphics that flooded Twitter and Facebook, why did this particular graphic touch me the most? It's a brilliant design, contrasting the sights of Boston with a simple message of love in a time of great fear. While I understand the fear and anger following the bombings in the days after the attack, the reaction of our community in the hours after the attack was truly inspiring and should sustain us in the days ahead.

Our compassion and selflessness is what really matters and makes us great when tragedy strikes: strangers helping strangers survive horrific injuries; first responders rushing into danger to save others; people selflessly donating time, money, blood, and housing to those displaced.


As the manhunt stretched out over the week, our initial reaction of solidarity and compassion began to change as information (including too much misinformation) poured out over the airwaves and on the internet. One of the most common refrains changed from Boston Strong to You Messed With the Wrong City.

While I am a big fan of Boston sports, the image of kid friendly mascots channeling their inner Boondock Saints was a little much for me. No matter how hard you try, Wally the Green Monster isn't going to look intimidating, nor should he.


Local author Dennis Lehane captured the best interpretation of 'Boston Strong/You Messed With the Wrong City':
Trust me, we won’t be giving up any civil liberties to keep ourselves safe because of this. We won’t cancel next year’s marathon. We won’t drive to New Hampshire and stockpile weapons. When the authorities find the weak and terminally maladjusted culprit or culprits, we’ll roll our eyes at whatever backward ideology they embrace and move on with our lives."
Arkansas State Representative Nate Bell appeared on the opposite end of the spectrum, hijacking the tragedy to interject his unrelated political agenda into an ongoing manhunt.

Speaking as a Massachusetts liberal, I spent the night inside and let the thousands of armed professionals do their jobs. I invite Nate Bell and his AR-15 to roam the streets of Boston and we'll see how the FBI, National Guard, State Police, the BPD, and Massachusetts citizens armed with a simple 911 call respond to his armed presence on our streets.


Two compelling and thoughtful responses came out directly addressed to the surviving suspect: one from Michael Rogers, a Jesuit Deacon from Rhode Island, and the other from musician Amanda Palmer from Cambridge. Both authors struggled with the horror of the bombings and incomprehension over the youth and inexperience of the second suspect, posing questions over our shared humanity despite his alleged crimes.

Deacon Rogers writes:
"I am glad that you are going to prison, and I hope that you will have many long years there in supermax in Colorado. I hope that no one I love will ever be threatened by you again, but I can’t hate you. 

I can’t hate you because whatever you brought into Boston was enough hate for a good long while, I won’t and can’t hate anymore. 

I can’t hate you because I remember being 19, I thought many things were a good idea which weren’t. I never would have went where you were, but I was certainly not an adult at 19. 

I can’t hate you because, even though you did unspeakable things... somehow you are still my brother and your death can never be my gain.

I can’t hate you, and not just because I am a Catholic, and a Christian, and because in a couple of months I will be a priest, I am a human and I simply can’t hate you. 

Dear Dzhokhar, I still have hope for you."
Amanda Palmer's poem was haunting, powerful and at times, uncomfortable:
"you don’t know how convinced your parents were that having children would be, absolutely, without question, the correct thing to do.

you don’t know how precious your iphone battery time was until you’re hiding in the bottom of the boat.

you don’t know how to get away from your fucking parents.

you don’t know how it’s possible to feel total compassion in one moment and total disconnection in the next moment.

you don’t know how things could change so incredibly fast.

you don’t know how to make something, but the instructions are on the internet.

you don’t know how to make sense of this massive parade.

you don’t know how to believe anyone anymore."

Deacon Rogers' letter was received in a far more positive manner than Amanda Palmer's. The comments on her blog post and Twitter feed make for an interesting read, as does her explanation of the poem's meaning. Perhaps the divergence of public opinion is due the medium (open letter versus poem), perhaps due to the author's image (aspiring priest versus exotic and sometimes controversial artist), but both managed to address our common humanity without the filter of tribalism or simplistic notions of good versus evil. Both are challenges to review our conscience and empathy, vital at a time when our principles are challenged by horrific events.


Sadly, some of our elected officials couldn't remember our common humanity, or even our Constitution as they paraded before cameras wishing to seem tough and implacable in the face of adversity. Just days after voting to preserve the 2nd Amendment, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina conveniently managed to ignore the rest of the Bill of Rights for an American citizen arrested for allegedly committing a crime within the United States.

Senator Graham, a lawyer and former Judge Advocate in the U.S. Air Force, seems to forget that Terry Nichols, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph were all U.S. citizens and bombing suspects, and were arrested, Mirandized, and found guilty of bomb attacks within our borders.

In light of the civilian sleuths on Reddit fingering the wrong people in photographs (the thread has been removed), the false flag fools (I refuse to link to any of that garbage), the Twitter geniuses who couldn't differentiate between the Czech Republic and Chechnya, the New York Post's incompetence and refusal to recognize their mistakes, or Fox News contributors advocating genocide, let's be glad that our Constitution and laws allow for a more measured, fact based response to any crime as horrific as the Marathon bombings.

The suspect will get his day in court. Both the federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will have the chance to provide their evidence of his guilt, culled from thousands of hours of investigation by law enforcement. The suspect will be represented by counsel if he so chooses, and that counsel can offer a rebuttal to the evidence and testimony presented against their client. A jury of his peers will render a verdict based upon testimony and evidence, and justice will be served.

If we are a great and just nation, then whatever laws and best practices we apply in our republic on a good day should be the same ones we apply on our worst day.

That is strength tempered by compassion.

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