Saturday, April 20, 2013

Locked Down

It has been, to say the least, a busy week.

With the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the events seem to be heading towards the inevitable long epilogue of legal proceedings and analysis. I haven't really had time to process all of this, but obviously, for someone with simultaneous interest in history and technology, there was a lot to ponder about this week.

I have been in shock for my city since hearing the news about the bombing on Monday. The images and suffering from the attack are hard to wrench from my mind. The deaths of a small boy and two young people so filled with promise and life is an enormous tragedy. The number of casualties  maimed, lives forever altered, is profoundly disturbing. This is terrorism. This was done to subvert our sense of meaningful lives and replace it with a crushing scene of senseless murder.

But in the more than 10 years since 9/11, one gets the sense things have changed in America. While the media quickly started chasing its own tail waiting for actual news, I was gratified that there wasn't an immediate call for additional 'security measures,' or new anti-terrorist laws. The system went forward with the tools it had and, as we know, that worked out reasonably well. The culprits were identified and dealt with. One can even hope that something approximating regular justice will be brought to the surviving Tsarnaev, a most welcome development.

Other aspects of the case seem more ambiguous.

Digilantes. Almost immediately after the bombings on Monday, various social media sites (Reddit, 4Chan, others) began to comb through the released footage and pictures of the moments before the bomb, looking for suspects. In retrospect, even if we do not consider the obvious examples of witch hunts, out-sourcing murder investigations to anonymous amateurs is mis-guided at best. None of the faces I saw on r/FindBostonBombers were those the FBI released. On the other hand, it was clear that the release of the FBI photos began to tightened the noose around the Tsarnaev brothers almost immediately.

One gets a renewed appreciation for having trained, responsible professionals conduct criminal investigations.

Lock Down. I'm less appreciative of the lock-down on Friday. That the Tsarnaevs posed a clear and present danger is not in doubt; they showed little hesitation in murdering an MIT police officer, or tossing bombs and improvised grenades at pursuers. Was this, though, such a unique threat that an entire city had to 'shelter in place?' And if this was such an obvious and transcendant crisis why did they lift the request in Watertown around 6pm before finding Dzhokhar? In what was was the threat of one individual bleeding out in the back of boat more than a gang of bank robbers tearing through the Northshore? I want to stress that I feel an enormous amount of pride for the police and investigators in this case but I do sincerely hope that these lock-down orders do not become standard practice for any suspects labeled terrorists. The bar needs to be very, very high for these types of actions.

I also think the same is true for loose talk of "enemy combatants." My opinion of Lindsey Graham, Senator of South Carolina, veers between bewilderment that he now represents the moderate wing of the Republican party and absolute contempt. Why do we listen to politicians with so little respect for our notion of justice? Why do we elect law-makers with so little belief in the rule of law?

Layers of Online presence. One last thing brought to my attention was this article in the New York, a short piece on the public life of the Tsarnaevs. I gave a the younger brother's Twitter the obligatory scan on Friday and was struck by the same sense Remmick captures so eloquently: the banal, disaffected life of a fairly typical young man. Given access to Twitter when I was 19, I can imagine writing down ideas identical in tone if not detail. So where do we look for the darkness that lead him to help his brother murder and maim so many? Looking back on this in a decade we might be surprised at our own assumptions that killers must reveal themselves on social media, that there is no deeper level to a person other than what they are able to confine to 140 characters.

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