some thoughts

flowering trees on the Charles River esplanade (May 2012)
Shortly before midnight last night Hanna and I started getting automated calls from Harvard University (Hanna works in their medical library) alerting staff to security concerns around MIT and in Cambridge and Allston-Brighton. Between midnight and six this morning we had maybe ten to a dozen such calls, making for a fitful night of interrupted sleep -- as helicopters droned overhead and sirens wailed in the night air.

A phone call just before six announced the University closed for the day; when WBUR clicked on at six o'clock, we heard our neighborhood of Allston-Brighton was one of the communities in lock-down, with residents asked not to leave their homes, and all public transit was suspended until further notice.

As most of you have probably heard by now, during the night two young men robbed a convenience store near MIT and shot an MIT security guard who attempted to intervene. The two suspects in the robbery -- now believed to be the suspects sought in relation to the Monday bombings at the Boston marathon -- escaped in a hijacked SUV to Watertown where there was an exchange of gunfire and some explosives thrown from the vehicle. One of the young men was shot by law enforcement officers and died in hospital. The other is still at large -- hence the city-wide shutdown as police attempt to track him down.

Hanna and I will be at home today. We are safe, with our cats, and the weather is beautiful. There is a coffee cake baking in the oven as I write this post.

The media, including NPR, are all going wild with speculations and scraps of information, so I'd like to take this opportunity to ask everyone to exercise patience as we wait. Patience, and hopeful intention that violence will not begat more violence.

Initially, people -- at least three of them -- died in the bomb blasts on Monday; the first act of violence. Over one hundred were injured, and currently struggling to heal.

One of those hundred-plus injured was a young man from Saudi Arabia whose ethnicity and presence at the scene of the blasts ("running while Saudi") led to further acts of violence: instead of being offered help and care for his injuries he was tackled to the ground, his apartment searched aggressively by investigators. It took them hours to clarify that he was not a suspect while the media coverage ran with the story of Islamic terrorists -- our favorite scapegoat du jour.

Then we had a high school track star, also darker skinned, who was the media's latest potential threat. His crime was, also, existing in public while young and male and not White.

Now we have these two young men, reportedly Chechen (the original Caucasians!), whose actions -- taken in a metropolitan area on edge -- have begat more violence. Obviously, their killing of the MIT security guard was wrong, and their actions in the wake of being caught in the midst of a robbery are only furthering the damage done.

But I worry about the way in which they're being so strongly linked to the marathon bombings.

I worry about the fact that one of the men -- said to be brothers -- has already been killed, in turn, by law enforcement.

I worry about what investigators, in their drive to find the bombers, will do in haste and violently.

I worry about the violence that may come from individuals and families that feel cornered.

While it is plausible, certainly, that these two young men from the 7-11 robbery were somehow involved in Monday's bombings, let's imagine for a second that they were not. Let's imagine they were out on a Thursday night and decided to rob a store (poor plan, but hardly an act of terrorism). Because they had guns, when they got caught by a guard one of them panicked and shot -- and killed. Now, of course, they're in deep shit on a number of levels, so the panic escalates ... and things get worse from there.

Again, perhaps the investigators have the right people. And regardless, even unconnected to the bombings, the young man still alive has participated in violence that warrants his arrest and trial for murder.

But I am skeptical enough of state power and the abuse of authority -- and the mobthink that happens when a community reacts defensively against a (real or perceived) threat -- that I will spend the day worried. And probably many days to come.

Today, I am going to try and hold in my thoughts all of the people caught up in this outbreak of violence. My hope is that we can prove the terrorists of the Boston marathon wrong by not becoming the world they sought to create: one in which violence begats violence and, exponentially, the trauma rises. My hope is that we will work with determination not to respond with force that mirrors the violence of those who maimed and killed less than a week ago.

I'd like to feel proud of my country and my adoptive city in a way I wasn't, so much, in the wake of 9/11 when our response was to go bomb Afghanistan and then start a war with Iraq.

So I will try to sit with hopeful intention, and work toward building a better -- less violent -- world.

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