The Bostonians

Some have made fun of it as a sign of parochialism but “We are all Bostonians” feels like an appropriate sentiment to me right now. As I walked through the Boston Common and Public Gardens yesterday, I saw more press and police in one place than I’ve seen in a long while. I also saw lots of people being kind to one another. Some were giving out flowers or flags. That evening, as I attended a peace vigil, I felt pride and love for my adopted home.

As a relatively new and not-very-proper Bostonian, I want justice with peace. I do not want this tragedy to become an excuse for further eroding civil liberties, scapegoating immigrants, profiling Muslims, and expanding the State’s coercive powers.

At a moment like this, it is incumbent upon us to probe and explore the broader meanings of justice. We will need to speak against those who will try to use this horrific event to justify further racial/ethnic profiling and immigrant-bashing. More insidiously, these tragic events will be used by some to stymie the march of progress in areas like immigration reform, criminal justice reform and other efforts to expand civil and human rights.

Let us hope history does not repeat itself. After 9/11 we came to accept an ever-expanding security apparatus that eroded our civil liberties while criminalizing targeted groups of people. Back then, comprehensive immigration reform was part of the collateral damage. Prior to the attacks, the Bush Adminstration had been prepared to propose and champion a raft of pretty decent reforms. That got derailed and instead we turned immigration services into an arm of Homeland Security called ICE. Mass deportations soon followed. We must do better this time around.

But back then, we became suspicious of everything. We bought into a web of lies that drove us into war with Iraq. We damaged our collective soul and further diminished our democracy. We became a less open society. And then we became cynical.

Twelve years later, we still carry the shame of Guantanamo. On the same day as the bombings in Boston, the New York Times published a letter from Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel about inhumane conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. It was a reminder of how far we are willing to go, in turning a blind eye toward a great injustice that is being done in the name of national security. In the aftermath of Monday's bombings, I doubt that many people will care to hear his story. That is a shame.

In such a climate, it becomes harder to deal with systemic causes of injustice both at home and abroad: mass incarceration, criminalization, marginalization; a corporate dominated economy that no longer cares about communities, and that renders entire groups of people as disposable. All of our efforts to address these injustices, and to create opportunities to live together in more just and sustainable ways, are impacted by reactionary responses to events like the Marathon bombings.

As we go forward, we will do well to show our empathy with those who grieve in Boston, and by extension, the nation. It will take a while to achieve the levels of empathy --- and action ---- that we’d like to see extended to victims of senseless violence in other parts of the world. But that should be one of our goals: for empathy to extend to the victims of recent bombings in Baghdad, and to the 'collateral damage' of drone strikes.  Let’s allow ourselves to grieve, and, through that grief, seek more universal understanding, that the senseless destruction of life, of the joy of public events, of community and of stability, is a tragedy, everywhere.