After the Bombings, We Need Justice . . . and Democracy

Like everyone else in the Boston area, the Open Media Boston staff is still numb with shock at the news that a vicious explosive attack was perpetrated by forces unknown against innocent civilians at the Boston Marathon just last week. Three people are dead as of this writing — one of them an eight-year-old boy. Well over 100 people have been injured—quite a large number with damage to their lower extremities. A significant percentage of those unlucky people have already suffered through single or double amputations.

Our hearts go out to all the victims of this terrible and unconscionable crime. Sadly, nothing we can do will change events. What’s done is done. All that remains now is our society’s quest for justice. People understandably want to make sure that the relevant authorities find the criminals, arrest them and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. This publication certainly supports that.

What we cannot support is any cry for justice that degenerates into calls for the suspension of civil liberties for any group of people. This nation has seen far too much of that kind of behavior after the 9/11 attack on New York City led to the largest expansion of America’s national security state since the Cold War.

So, with blood still literally staining Boylston Street, we appeal to the people of Boston—and to the American government at all levels—for calm. Find the criminals, yes. Punish them, yes. But don’t forget that this country is a democracy. Don’t stoop to tarring entire groups of people with the brush of terrorism. And certainly avoid collective punishment at all costs.

For our part, we remember that the role of journalists in a democracy is to ensure the furtherance of that democracy. So, we’re going to keep an eye on civil liberties in Boston in the aftermath of these attacks and encourage our colleagues at other news outlets to do the same.

We’ll also take this opportunity to put a democratic spin on that Orwellian tip that the MBTA and other transit authorities around the U.S. have been pushing in P.R. campaigns since 9/11: “If you see something, say something.”

That’s exactly right. If you see members of the Boston Police Department, or the Massachusetts State Police, or the National Guard, or any branch of armed forces, or any of the many intelligence agencies that swept the city looking for the perpetrators of the bombings, violating people’s civil liberties—or your own civil liberties—then you need to let us know. And, let the rest of the media know. And, let the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild know.

Because we can’t allow our city’s tragedy to turn into an excuse to conduct witch hunts against Muslims, or immigrants, or African-Americans, or any group that have traditionally been scapegoated in times of crisis in the U.S.

And we can’t allow each crisis push us to further away from our democratic heritage, flawed though it may be. Because down that road lies America’s ruin.

Anyone that wants to let us know about a suspected civil liberties violation in the Boston area can do so by emailing us at info@openmediaboston.org. You should also talk to the ACLU of Massachusetts and the National Lawyers Guild – Massachusetts Chapter.

People looking for a good central repository of useful information relating to the Boston Marathon Tragedy should check out a site that we’re working on with local technologists at http://www.bostonsituation.org.

—Jason Pramas
Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston

Jason Pramas is the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism’s network director.

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