Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Tragedy

A few weekends ago, I was staying with family for the weekend on Long Island, NY. I had a run-in with the police while I was there that I have wanted to write about since. Curious about why there were a number of cars parked in the front yard, why there were two cruisers with their lights on, and why it was taking over an hour to clear out what was clearly a minor fender-bender, I went and asked the officer what was happening. The response I received was rude, aggressive and indicative that the officer felt he had no obligation to treat a citizen civilly and with respect.

I planned to use the story as a launch pad into a discussion of how the security infrastructure in the nation has changed in recent years. How law enforcement was gaining an increasing sense of entitlement. How the government had gone too far in its safety and security measures since 2001, from the implementation of the TSA to attempt to control the internet to the use of digital surveillance to the proliferation of drones, and how 'going too far' had trickled down to the boots on ground police officers. I was going to write about how America had traded its freedom for security.

These are all common themes in the political discourse of today (at least among some quarters) and, while I perhaps planned to use a rather innocuous (maybe even petty) springboard for the discussion, they are topics, both serious and important, that serious people can earnestly debate. I have written about cyber security, drones, and internet freedom many times on this page, almost always taking the stance that less was more when it comes to government intervention in privacy. The Boston Marathon tragedy last week provided a grim reminder of the basic arguments of "the other side", in this case those who embrace the steps the government has taken in the post-9/11 world to keep Americans safe.

I grew up 30 miles outside of Boston in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Some of my earliest, fondest memories are linked to the City.  I have worked in Boston, taken classes there, have family and friends who live there currently and have loved ones who I knew were in town for the marathon. In fact, my sister makes an appearance in one very chilling photo of the alleged perpetrators.

Like many from the area, I have connections to the Marathon itself as well. I have attended and I have had good friends take on the route in past years. My best friend and his growing family live the neighborhood where the runners embark upon their challenge. I have lived on the route.

Some of my earliest memories are of my family huddled around the TV trying to catch a glimpse of my uncle as he passed by on the screen. I also happened to be on a train that originated in Boston when the news started filtering through to me via scattered texts which started out incomprehensibly without context but which soon took on terrifying form.

Perhaps with this background, it is understandable why the bombings at the Marathon provoked a very emotional reaction from me.

However I also think that this is a very interesting time, and possibly a dangerous one for the type of people who fear that government intrusions into our lives are detrimental. From Mayor Bloomberg saying that interpretations of the Constitution will need to change, to debates over whether or not Miranda rights are necessary to discussions over the necessity for more cameras to additional questions over gun rights, the security for freedom crowd has been out in full force the past two weeks, as they typically are at times like this. Yet, and as might be apparent in the introduction to this post, I would caution against snap judgements based on the events themselves. As we have seen in the past, maybe most notably with respect to the PATRIOT Act, they are often misplaced and lead to solutions which are as bad, or worse than the problems they are set up to remedy.

That said, I am very grateful for the police officers who responded to the tragedy, one who gave his life in the midst of it, and those who risked their lives to keep Boston safe in the days after the initial attack. I am grateful that the sports teams of Boston, and even New York, kept people's spirits high in the aftermath (if readers don't know what I am referring to, just see here). I am grateful, as bad as it was, that it wasn't worse. I am grateful that my sister, who is very terrifyingly visible in a picture of the perpetrators was able to visit me this weekend, I am grateful that I live in a country where something like this can happen, and people respond how they have. Finally, while it doesn't change how I feel about trading security for freedom, I am grateful that the response of the citizens of our country have reminded me that there is no place I would rather be from than America.


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