For the last 13 months, I have been shocked, dismayed, and heartbroken by my birth city of Boston. I know I am in the minority. But let me explain.
I used to be a proud Bostonian. I'm not sure if I was ever proud to be from the US. But when it came to Boston, I wore my pride and pretty much tried to sell my city to every friend I made who wasn't from there. It's the birthplace of American liberty, I would tell people. It isn't nearly as racist as Spike Lee says it is, I would go on. It's white, sure. But man it is educated. It has the highest number of post graduates in any city. It's citizens are refined and fast walkers. And despite having a high concentration of colleges and universities, it has always been a pro sports town.
It took me a long time to look at Boston critically. There was a time when most Red Sox fans were baseball gurus, who were knowledgeable of the sport and its history. But one humid August evening in 2003 I looked down at the Fenway crowd from an infield roof box, and saw tons of frat boys and girls in pink caps all double-fisting brews. It was a thrilling victory against the Mariners. I had been a fan since the age of 4, and I was still only 30. But I knew right there that I could no longer see the Sox live and not be bothered by those kids. I was certainly pleased to see Boston pro sports teams collect a mountain of silverware soon afterward. At the time of my final live game at Fenway, the Patriots had won two Lombardi trophies, and the Red Sox were about to miss the AL pennant in a loss more heartbreaking than the 1986 MLS championship series, because it was to their mean spirited, arrogant, arch rivals.
Part of my shift was personal. By 2003, I had lived in Brooklyn for 8 years. As 8 became 11, I moved to Manhattan, and as 11 became 17, I let the Red Sox go, and pledged my allegiance to the Mets in 2008, the only other real "Yankee Haters" in the majors (apart from their closeted Yankee supporters, of course).
Boston has always been home to income inequality. While it took a long time for its housing market to recover from the 2007-2008 crash, Boston is almost as hot as San Francisco or Manhattan. It's a wealthy town, no matter how much puritan modesty might be left.
I am more upset with New York, and I always will be. New York is an imperialist city. It supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It gave George W. Bush more than a chance in his first term. Mayor Bloomberg did more than that. He invited the RNC to the city in 2004 and began a ten-year beatdown of the Bill of Rights. From suspicionless searches of salarymen in the subway to suspicionless stops and searches of young men on the streets, the Fourth Amendment was an enemy of his administration.
New York is no longer a beacon of freedom. It is a glimpse into the future America, ruled by the top 5 percent, where the bill of rights is a list of dead letters for everyone else.
But it wouldn't take long for my birth city to get back onto my radar. In January 2007, things got ridiculous when unauthorized, illuminated ads were installed in various locations in the city. The reaction from Boston's police and mayor was despicable and embarrassing. The the freelancers who installed the devices were nearly charged as terrorists. And Menino didn't admit he and the state overreacted until the fall of 2013, when one of the freelance artists was hired to make illuminated displays for Boston's First Night celebrations.
Which brings us to how Boston reacted when real, yet totally baffling terrorism arrived in 2013. It was not the first time. Bostonians were terrorized by the British (of course in today's terms, that's state sponsored terrorism, or simply colonialism). The last time Boston experienced terrorism was in 1994, when John Salvi shot seven people in two separate Planned Parenthood clinics in Brookline, killing two. So Boston is by no means isolated from the rest of the US and the extremism and slaughter that can occur anywhere.
What happened at the 2013 Boston Marathon will continue to perplex people for generations. It does not fit any common pattern of terrorism on US soil. The US, as bad as it is in foreign relations and spreading war worldwide, is not interfering with Dagestan, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev (the deceased, elder brother) visited for a few months in a futile attempt to join Islamic militants in their cause to impose sharia law in the region. For reasons still not clear, Tamerlan went back to Boston and decided to carry out a bombing that would draw attention to himself and his cause, even though Bostonians were in no way involved in the issue.
Unlike most terrorists, he wasn't attacking civilians of a nation that was oppressing his people (he was a naturalized American). He wasn't protesting a military occupation, which is another primary motivator of bombings, and the overwhelming reason young people carry out suicide bombings. He wasn't carrying out an attack over a domestic issue (abortion and anti-government sentiment being the big ones). He was an angry, lost, perhaps even bored young man. He and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, could have carried out the bombing in whatever city he was living in at the time. So until we have a clearer idea as to why this bombing was inspired in Dagestan but executed in Boston, I cannot comment on the bombers themselves. But what I can comment on is the reaction, and how it forever ruined my relationship with Boston.
Simply put, Boston over-reacted. Consider this: had the Tsarnaev brothers opened fire with handguns or rifles, and shot dozens of people before being tackled or killed by police (who were all over that area), would the incident be classified as terrorism? Would there have been a One Fund? Would there have been “Boston Strong”? Would there have been weeks of media coverage, and a cathartic return to the finish line when the Red Sox surprisingly clinched MLB championship over four months later? And more important – would it have become a Federal case? Would the surviving brother be charged with terrorism had he used one or more guns and not a single explosive? Why did a crime that killed four and seriously maimed close to twenty get almost as much media coverage as the Oklahoma City Bombing some 18 years before? I argue it is because of two reasons. First, it was after 9/11, and second, the weapons were two bombs. Boston went nuts because bombs went off. What made this terrorism was not the murky motive, but the weapons used. And they were small bombs, comparatively, in the world of explosives.
And I would go a step further. I argue that that this always was a local crime, and not something that should have been blown into a Federal case. Don't Americans know the alarming levels of gun violence in their country, especially after 20 children where gunned down in December 2012? What happened in Boston did not rise to the same level of destruction and loss. Not even close.
Maybe my beef is with the DOJ and not the city of Boston? Oh, to hell with them both. Here's why.
In some respects, the BPD and marathon security did their jobs. No one with backpacks could have approached Boylston Street until security was relaxed a bit. All the elite runners had passed and thousands of people had left the area by the time the Tsarnaev brothers arrived.
Two black power bombs, and Boston's reaction was quite telling. There was a lot of frat boy and macho chest thumping over terrorists and how they should never have messed with the Commonwealth on Patriot's Day. Familiar words were thrown around, such as us, them, and USA. Boston's response was quickly branded by social media, inspired, in part by the Army Strong ad campaign. Because we never have government sanctioned rallies and protests, Boston took their rage to sporting events. The Bruins and Red Sox in particular turned their homes into "Boston Strong" epicenters. Politicians rallied around it. And it was nearly impossible to avoid the phrase for the remainder of the year anywhere in US news, pro sports coverage, and social media.
Boston Strong was more than a hashtag or rallying cry. It became a brand. It could be monetized. And the One Fund, the charity built to help compensate the families of those killed and pay the exorbitant medical bills of the wounded, raised over $70 Million. It had a far reach, appearing as big advertisements on the sides of douple-decker tour buses in New York City at its peak. As a socialist, I feel the nation should pay everyone's medical bills. The One Fund did its job to cover the medical expenses of those who were maimed, and it was closely watched and found to be a well run charity.
But my issue remains the reactions. We have the reaction from the young, pro-war males. Boston Strong, dude! Next up, the politicians. It wasn't much better. We saw how Mayor Menino and AG Martha Coakley racted to the 2007 bombing "scare." Did politicians fare any better when an actual violent event took place in 2013? Not really. And I really can't go much further without becoming more upset. Elected officials should lead. But often all they do score cheap points. In the old days, they would show up to a public event. Today, they just take to Twitter.
Then we have the reaction from the US news media. This was the most predictable, but still ridiculous. As I argued in my master's thesis back in 1998, news media create a template, or "master narrative," based on major events, and re-use them when a similar, or seemingly-similar event takes place. The Boston Marathon bombings sent the US news media cycle into 9/11 mode, minus the TV news ticker. The media ran with almost every lead they got, and once again, predictably, repeated the propaganda from the government. Without any verification, quite a few media outlets ran with the narrative that the bombers were foreign Muslims, and not US citizens. After all, who else bombs anything in the US in the 21st Century?
I am not the only one to argue that this incident was classified as terrorism because of the weapons used. Glenn Greenwald explains it a lot better than I ever could. His analysis, written about 36 hours after the bombings, is worth a read. His core argument is outlined in his fourth point concerning the media and government reactions:
"The reaction to the Boston attack underscored, yet again, the utter meaninglessness of the word "terrorism". News outlets were seemingly scandalized that President Obama, in his initial remarks, did not use the words "terrorist attack" to describe the bombing. In response, the White House ran to the media to assure them that they considered it "terrorism". Fox News' Ed Henry quoted a "senior administration official" as saying this: "When multiple (explosive) devices go off that's an act of terrorism."
Is that what "terrorism" is? "When multiple (explosive) devices go off"? If so, that encompasses a great many things, including what the US does in the world on a very regular basis. Of course, the quest to know whether this was "terrorism" is really code for: "was this done by Muslims"? That's because, in US political discourse, "terrorism" has no real meaning other than: violence perpetrated by Muslims against the west. The reason there was such confusion and uncertainty about whether this was "terrorism" is because there is no clear and consistently applied definition of the term. At this point, it's little more than a term of emotionally manipulative propaganda. That's been proven over and over..."
And finally, we have the most serious, and worst reaction of them all – the Department of Justice and local law enforcement. Public transit was shut down. The Bruins and Red Sox games were canceled. Schools were closed. Working adults were told to stay home. And SWAT teams went door to do to sweep searches of houses. That had never happened before in US history for an incident like this. This was not Chernobyl. Governor Deval Patrick, as great as he was before this event, committed an unforgivable sin against his citizens and the Constitution.
Let me see if I get this correct. Two gunpowder bombs go off on Boylston Street in the waning hours of the Boston Marathon. The bombs are planted by two young men from Cambridge, who, for lack of a better word, are total losers. They have no escape plan. They don't try to hide their faces when planting the bombs. In the crucial hours after the bombing, their actions speak volumes about their desperation and lack of planning. In a different order than I can recall, in the 26 hours following the bombing, they delayed getting out of town, bought snacks, witnessed an armed robbery in the store they entered to buy the snacks, stole cars, got into a shootout with the MIT and Cambridge police, killed an MIT officer (who the media and public then referred to as a victim of the bombing and/or terrorism), and went on a futile ATM run. In that hunt for cash, they mistakenly believed that if one ATM wouldn't accept a card and various pin numbers for a cash withdrawal, then the solution was to drive to another ATM and experience the same denial of service.
They were losers, Boston. Accept it.
And during this time, the FBI and BPD went to lengths seldom seen before in our nation in order to find their suspects. They locked down Boston and its surrounding cities, including the two big cites across the Charles River – Cambridge and Somerville. All MBTA mass transit was suspended. Citizens were advised not to go to work and remain indoors. All of this for two losers from Cambridge whose arsenal at that point included a pistol and BB gun.
I caught a lot of flack from friends and strangers when I argued back then than the lockdown of Metro Boston was overkill, unnecessary, and a sad, temporary loss of one of our most cherished American freedoms – the freedom to move about peacefully and at will, without having to show ones papers or abide by a curfew. The lockdown was bullshit, and I am quite happy to point that out until the day I expire. The argument can be made that the surviving Tsarnaev would have been found (and probably killed) sooner if there had not been a lockdown.
I have heard people backpedal, saying that the lockdown was not mandatory. If you needed to get in your car and go to a doctor or get Dunkies, you could have. And there are Bostonians who realize how over the top and ridiculous the lockdown was.
After the World Trade Center was destroyed, anyone trying to enter lower Manhattan south of 14th Street (and later Canal Street) had to show their papers to prove they lived in the restricted area. The WTC was a smoldering mass grave that smelled like chlorine and mercury. Over 2,900 had been killed. Our nation was virtually at war. Boston was locked down over two violent stoners from Cambridge. Need I say more? Apparently so.
What exactly was Boston doing? Did they want this to be bigger and more traumatic than it actually was? Did some really think that two gunpowder bombs on Boylston Street amounted to a massive attack from a foreign entity; that someone in the world had declared war on their town? Simply put, did Boston want a 9/11 to call its own? Did it want a terrorist event to define their existence for the next few years? Did they look at New York and think, "We like the way New York lost its shit after 9/11, and went all pro-military and pounded its chest and pretty much acted like an asshole for five years. We want to do the same!"
I think Boston flirted with the idea. But I am happy to report that it didn't stick. There will certainly be a memorial of some kind (one that won't charge admission at least). Boston has two memorials for great fires that took many lives - the Coconut Grove nightclub fire in 1942, and the Hotel Vendome fire in 1971. I expect something similar to be installed on Boylston Street in the months and years ahead.
Returning to Boylston Street the first weekend of May, 2014, I walked past the first bomb location, and past the video cameras at Lord & Tailor's that captured the bombers. I went into Starbucks next to my favorite Boston restaurant, Atlantic Fish Company, and saw a simple chalk board congratulating this years field of runners from around the world. I didn't see "Boston Strong" anywhere. Not one sign. Not one ribbon. Not one T-shirt. There was nothing to indicate that I was at the site of our nations last deadly bombing.
If that holds, maybe I forgive Boston a little. But not entirely. I knew when I graduated from university in 1995, that I would never live there. I am a New Yorker for the time being. I am still drifting away from Boston, despite it's slow admission that it behaved badly. Every so slowly, I turn my eyes to a wonderful little city where the living is good, the art is plentiful, and the cops really enjoy shooting mentally ill and/or homeless people. Bye bye, Boston. Hello, Albuquerque.
How did I react to the bombings? I might have overreacted, myself. I was losing touch with the Red Sox for years, but I severed all ties in 2013, and fully embraced the New York Mets as my pro baseball team. I made a point to travel to Boston less. I even made an effort to stop buying Gillette products. I went a little bonkers, even though I would argue I never went as bonkers as Boston did.
The title of this post comes from my partner, who was able to clearly tell me how to back off and let Boston have its moment. But I still wanted to publish this post, so I could explain myself and see how it holds up as the years pass.