This Week Sort of Felt Like the World was Ending

20 Apr

Important!  This piece is me working out some of my conflicting thoughts about what has transpired over the last week.  I hope in reading this, people understand that I feel relieved that the suspects have both been taken off the streets, although I do regret that one of them was killed.  I feel relieved, but I do not feel happy, or celebratory.  What they are accused of having done was undoubtedly horrific.  But I am worried that, once again, we as a society are going to miss a very crucial moment in political time to ask hard questions about why this has happened.  Please keep that in mind as you read.

This has been a really awful and confusing week and I feel, to put it simply, quite conflicted.  When those bombs went off in Boston on Monday I, along with everyone else, was totally shocked.  I had come home from a run to text messages from friends asking me if I knew and if I was alright – some people thought it possible that I was there.  I spent the next two hours in my sweaty running clothes glued to a live stream, hungering for any information at all that would give a clue of who could have done something so horrible, and why.  I know I was not alone.  This week has seen me scouring news sources, reading every single update about the explosion, the victims, the hunt for clues as to the identities of the perpetrators.  I knew that, in a busy shopping district dotted with high-end stores, there would undoubtedly be images captured on video, it was only a matter of time.  And then the time came.

To see the images of these men who were suspected to have out carried out this gruesome attack was mixed.  I was glad that some headway had been made, that there were suspects in mind but at the same time I was sad.  I knew that the attack had happened, I knew that nothing I could think or say could take us back to Monday morning, to a time when these men could have been thwarted or changed their minds.  But seeing them and knowing full well that if they were caught alive their lives would be ruined, along with the lives of so many that were ruined on Monday, made me think:  another two casualties.  Intellectually, I knew it was too late and they would face justice, as they should.  But as a human being, I couldn’t help but think about what it was that inspired them, and specifically, what flipped the younger brother who, by all accounts, had always seemed a good kid.  I felt sad that we, the inhabitants of the world, lost him to this evil.

Thursday was a particularly hard night for all of us, I think.  Information was coming out, but haltingly.  Barely anyone was covering the shooting at MIT.  No one was saying whether or not it was connected to the Monday bombing.  It really felt like, combined with the failure of the background check bill in the Senate and the plant explosion in Texas, the world was ending.  Nothing made any sense.  Everything, everywhere seemed completely out of control.  I waited with baited breath for the next thing to happen, for the next report to come out, for it to be in New York, or DC, for it to be something big.  Thankfully, the thing I was waiting for never happened, it never came.

And then Friday. I spent the day glancing at my Twitter feed, checking the New York Times website, looking up at CNN at work until the second brother, a 19-year-old kid, was found hiding in a boat in someones backyard.  The whole city had been shut down, militarized, and there he was, in a boat on the grass.  And now we’re safe.

But I wonder, are we really? When I wrote my thoughts about Boston on Tuesday, I wondered, among other things, about what sort of security implications the bombing would have for marathons, the spectators and the runners, going forward.  Now that one bother is dead and the other is in custody, now that the imminent threat is gone, I am more worried than ever before.  We have a moment right now where everyone is listening, both domestically and internationally.  We have a moment, right now, where we can have a really serious conversation about why this happened and I don’t just mean why the brothers decided to do what they did I mean why, in a bigger context, what sort of social, economic, political, racial, historical factors might have played a role.  President Obama, in his statement after the younger brother was captured, asked

“Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?”

It’s a good question.  It’s a big question, and important one.  Probably bigger and more important than most people think at first.  What is it that makes people like the Tsarnaev brothers, like Major Nidal Malik Hasan of Ford Hood, like Najibullah Zazi who planned the failed 2009 attack on the New York City subway system go from seemingly normal, adjusted people to not? At some point we have to stop pointing the finger at them, at Islam, at whatever.  At some point we have to turn the mirror on ourselves.

Think about Sunil Tripathi, the missing Brown student, who was at first thought to be one of the bombers, largely thanks to Reddit.  And then think of Salah Eddine Barhoum who was questioned soon after the bombings.  I can’t imagine the kind of impact it must have on a young person’s life to have their face wrongly associated with such an awful event.  And the impact it has on other young people of color who see this unfolding before their eyes and realize that could have been them, they could have been accused.  I doubt it makes a lot of people feel terribly American.  I doubt it makes them happy or feel safe.

And then there’s this increased use of the suspension of Miranda rights, thanks in large part to the Obama administration, that has been supported by many of the same senators who voted no on the background check bill.

So as I said, I feel conflicted.  I want to know why these brothers did what they did, too.  I want to have some answers.  But I also want to have some harder conversations and I’m really afraid that, once again, we will miss the boat.

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