Personal Rage

Chalk messages written on a storefront on Newbury street the week following the Boston Marathon bombings and the arrest of Tsarnaev.

The idea of human rights arose in parallel to the rise of photography; when we could see abuse happening around the world, we had more reason to get angry about it.* Photos made the tragedies seem closer to home. In the age of the Internet, it would follow, we should be able to get outraged about everything. But we don’t. Maybe there are too many things worthy of our outrage. Maybe, when we have access to information about everything we need a way to rank tragedies, to say this one is closer to me. These victims looked like me or lived near me or could have been me.

All of which is complicated by the fact that while we could have equal access to information to everything, we actually don’t. News doesn’t get all covered equally. Rich white child victims might sell more papers than black teenage victims. I feel dirty just writing that. It shouldn’t be true. But too often it is. War in an African country gets fewer viewers to tune in than a dick pic scandal in Washington D.C. Sometimes, lots of news competes for the same news cycle. (See for example: the international section in the last few weeks). Sometimes, it’s a slower news week so one story gets more attention than it would any other time.

Sometimes the news is personal; we find ways to make it so, We find that someone we know knows the mother of a kidnap victim. The planes came from our airport. For a few hours, or minutes even, we couldn’t reach our family, worried that they were hurt or that their homes were destroyed. A bomber attacks our city.

Journalists are taught to remove themselves from the story. It’s the ultimate death of the author, by choice, a surgical removal of a person who actually is part of the story.** Well-written journalism moves me as it should, but objectivity is a habit that dies hard, so I was shocked to find myself furious when I read that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers wanted to move his trial out of Boston and to D.C. Lawyers said Tsarnaev “could not receive a fair trial in Boston or elsewhere in the state” because a large percentage of people knew someone at the marathon, were affected by the shelter-in-place city shutdown during the manhunt, and presume that Tsarnaev is guilty.

And my first thought when reading that was “well Dzhokhar should have thought of that before he planted a bomb at the Marathon! He should have thought of that before he placed a bomb at the finish line of a race that embodies the city, killing Martin Richard, Krystle M. Campbell, and Lingzi Lu and then shooting and killing MIT police Officer Sean Collier later in the week. He should have thought of that before attacking MY CITY.”

“Woah,” I thought. Not only should I still be thinking of him as “the alleged bomber,” because that’s how newspapers refer to suspects who have not been found guilty, but I also actually do believe in the right to a fair trial for everyone, that upholding our democratic values when it’s the hardest is what makes our democracy strong. And yet, my reaction to the news was that if Tsarnaev wanted a fair trial, he shouldn’t have committed the crime. Twisted logic at its best.

Because ultimately, I didn’t sleep for a week after the bombings, reading the news non stop. Because this year on Patriot’s Day, standing at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill wearing a Boston Strong t-shirt felt like the healing I didn’t know I needed.

Because it turns out that inital rage cannot always be suppressed by journalism ethics and democratic values. That initial reactions can be tempered in the name of logic and values, but can’t be prevented altogether. That while we should rage about all tragedy, some will be closer to home than others, and that there’s a limit to how small the world can shrink. Even in the age of the Internet.

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A memorial to the victims of the 2013 Boston Bombing victims, placed at the finish line of the 2014 Boston Marathon.

 

* I first heard this idea in Samuel Moyn’s History of Human Rights class. Any misrepresentation of this is a reflection of the fact that I took the class my sophomore year of college, not of Prof. Moyn.

**The New Yorker is laughably strange about this: “‘How would you like it if I called you a whiteskin?’ Sherry Pocknett, a Wampanoag from Mashpee, Massachusetts, asked a person who asked about the name.” It’s possible that the person who asked was not the reporter who wrote the Talk of the Town piece, but given the New Yorker’s record of awkward third person self referrals, I’d bet good money that it was Ian Frazier himself who was doing the asking.

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The Brazenness of Wind, The Comfort of Silence

I haven’t fully figured out what I want to say here tonight, but I know I want to say something.

First, because the names of the victims must always be more important than the names of the perpetrators (while noting that the Tsarnaev brothers are still officially alleged perpetrators), the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing are Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester, Krystle M. Campbell, 29, of Arlington, and Lingzi Lu, 23, of Shenyang, China. And, MIT police Officer Sean Collier, 26, was shot and killed Thursday night at MIT. 

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I spent almost all of Thursday night listening to the police scanner, watching WBZ, and reading The Boston Globe on line, and looking for updates of Twitter. I live on a side street, but I could see the police cars speeding down the next main street down, sending spurts of blue light to my street.

I spent Friday on lockdown, listening to WBUR, and reading the Boston Globe. At some point, I had to give up on Twitter, and then for a bit, I had to turn off the news. There hadn’t been new information for a long time, and the constant news diet was exhausting and draining.

But on Friday night, at a low-key dinner with friends who live around the corner, after the lockdown was lifted, I kept wandering back to the television. And then it was confirmed:  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was in custody. When I got back to my apartment, my roommates and I discovered that the radio we had left on was actually on a timer, so it was silent in our apartment.

I was far enough from the scenes that  I hadn’t heard a lot of sirens on Thursday night and Friday, but the silence in our apartment late Friday night–without the news on, with the lightness that came from  knowing Tsarnaev was in custody–was palpable.

I could hear the wind, and it seemed both comfortingly familiar and shockingly new. And the word brazen popped into my head.

Cities that literally had been shut down would come to life again and move forward. Our hearts were torn, and our sense of security would be shattered, and for many the path to recovery will be long and painful.  But we would walk our streets again, attend sports games, go shopping, and go out to dinner.

Throughout it all, the wind had been blowing, but only now–the first time since Monday afternoon that I was in my apartment with both my radio and computer turned off–did I notice it. And the  wind, in its complete normalcy, its constancy, its lack of awareness of the terribleness of the week, sounded like a declaration of defiance, of above-it-all-ness, of brazenness. Which is something I needed to hear at that moment.

In so many ways we are still not OK. It will take a very long time for that to happen, and for the families of the victims and for the injured that day may never fully arrive.

In the weeks and months that follow, there will be tears, and arguments, and debates–about media, about the role of the Internet, about civil liberties and terrorism. But on Friday night, the wind died down, and as I fell asleep there was silence, not the eerie silence from empty streets. But the silence of a city feeling a tiny bit safer.

 Photo of Boylston Street by Flickr user toddmundt http://www.flickr.com/photos/toddmundt/8664495840/ Some rights reserved

Photo of 200 Newbury  Street by Flickr user toddmundt http://www.flickr.com/photos/toddmundt/8664495840/ Some rights reserved

“Love That Dirty Water. Boston You’re My Home”

My family lives near the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, named for its location in the Boston Marathon.

Photo by Jerome Gerrior Racing. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Jerome Gerrior Racing. Some rights reserved.

For a while, we were under the false impression that we, in fact, lived at the top of Heartbreak Hill and we would yell “congratulations! The hard part is over!” Oops. Sorry. (In our defense, the youth race is called “Heartbreak Hill Race,” even though it’s on one of the earlier “Newton Hills”).

***

Every year, my parents take a walk after the Passover Seder. One year, Passover fell out on Patriots’ Day. My parents took their walk late at night, long after every runner had finished. The streets though, were still littered with paper cups and orange peels, signs that at some point earlier, all along the route, people had held out cups of water and orange slices for runners to grab as they came past. As my parents walked down the street, a truck driver pulled up, clearly completely lost. My parents gave him directions, and the truck driver looked up and down the litter-strewn street. “Man, you guys sure know how to throw a party,” he said. I think of that story every year, my parents hosting a 26.2-mile party, and laugh.

I told that story to some friends last night, adding that I remember learning the proper way to hold out a cup of water: palm curled just enough so that the cup doesn’t fall out of your hand, but open enough so that when a runner comes by, he or she can grab it from you without slowing.

One of my friends said, “people just take cups of water from strangers? Anything could be in those cups! I would only take sealed bottles of water from official water stations.” I was totally confused: “But why would anyone put anything into the water? What would be the point?”

Every year people run past, right near my parents house. We cheer them on. We yell encouragement. We offer water or oranges. We see neighbors we haven’t seen in a while and buy lukewarm lemonade from little kids who have set up a stand in their front yard. Because, I guess, that’s what you do, when someone runs a marathon in your neighborhood.

***

Today was different. Today, I was on the T, trying to get to my parents’ neighborhood, when Hynes Convention Center T station was evacuated. The announcement came three times, uncharacteristically clear, and very calm. “This is an emergency. Please leave the station.” No one on the T itself moved, since it wasn’t clear if we should get off, or if the best way to leave the station would be to stay on the T. There were murmurs of confusion. And then, someone must have realized what was going on. The fourth announcement came. “This is an emergency. Please empty the train and leave the station.” And so we did.

People wearing Boston Marathon medals and wrapped in “space blankets” limped a little as they headed back up the steps. Others gave them sympathetic looks. Once outside, police directed us away from Copley, but had little other information to offer. So we walked. Alongside, but in the opposite direction of, the Marathon runners still heading towards the finish line. “Good job! You’re almost there!” spectators yelled, cheering on strangers.

We steered clear of the emergency vehicles racing down the street and of the cops on bicycles who easily made it clear that they were no longer just policing an ordinary race. At one point, one of the cops along the marathon route started telling runners he was going to direct them to one side so motorcycles could pass. Everyone moved aside but kept running.

It took a few texts from my family and then a stop in Dunkin Donuts to watch the news for me to fully grasp what was going on. I kept wondering if there was anything of use I could have done had I had a press pass, (I would have had to have crossed many police barriers to have gotten close to the scene).

But my first concern was contacting my parents, who knew I was supposed to be heading through Boston just as the bombs went off. (As far as I can tell, the T must have been under or just past Copley at the time of the explosions). Once I managed to convey to them that I was safe and that I had figured out a way to walk back to Cambridge, I joined the people walking over the BU Bridge. On the Cambridge side, some people–clearly not from the area, and now completely adrift –stopped me to ask, “what’s in this direction? If we walk this way will there be some place for us to go?”

“Yes,” I said.

“We’re all walking the same direction,” someone else crossing the bridge said, “so follow us.”

***

Later, home, I read that people who finished the Marathon as the bombs went off kept running to go give blood. That emergency personnel lept the barriers between the spectators and the runners so they could reach the wounded; they ran toward the explosions. People opened up their homes to stranded runners and checked in with people they knew. I was, throughout the day, completely impressed with how helpful, calm, and informative, cops along the Marathon route were.

It didn’t occur to me that anyone would ever have a reason to attack the Marathon. Even when the train had been evacuated, I assumed there was some sort of threat, but that it would turn out to be unsubstantiated. Because, who would do that?

But we step up. We offer water, and shelter, and blood, and information, and encouragement, and prayers, and comfort. Because, ultimately, that’s what you do when someone attacks a marathon in your neighborhood.