After the unprecedented events that took place in and around Boston last week, where are we now and where are we going?
As an American living in Michigan who closely watched the events unfolding from Monday through Saturday, my thoughts and emotions are mixed.
Sadness Becomes Relief
I was in my boss’ office on Monday afternoon about 3:30 PM (EST) when I received initial word of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. We turned on CNN for about 20 minutes as the unfolding events were described in detail. Several of us stood around as we watched replays of the bombs going off by the race’s finish line on Patriot's Day in Boston.
My mind instinctively went back to the planes flying into towers on September 11, 2001. I was at work only a few blocks away on that Tuesday morning. While this doesn't appear to be a terrorist incident on the level of 9/11, the attack did hit at an American traditional event that is celebrated with national press coverage.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the devastated families and victims of the horrible bombings.
There were numerous twists and turns all week. I watched President Obama’s remarks at the interfaith service on Thursday, as he told the world that, “Boston will run again.”
We awoke Friday morning to the news of a gunfight and an armed man in a residential neighborhood. A city with a metro area of several million people was completely shut down on a work day. Wow!
Thanks for the Men and Women in Uniform
Celebrations broke out all over Boston Friday night and Saturday. Crowds chanted “USA, USA!” Others sang the national anthem or screamed, “BPD! BPD!” (BPD stands for Boston Police Department).
Law enforcement -- from firemen to police to FBI and more, were instant heroes again. I am thankful for the men and women in Michigan and all over this nation who serve this country so diligently every day.
And the president reappeared Friday night with another address to the nation after the second bombing suspect was caught. He also made it clear that many questions must still be answered.
By the time that my family happily moved on with “regular life” on Saturday, a whole new set of
questions started popping up. The central question is -- why? What was the suspects’ motive(s)?
Here are just a few of the tough questions that will take some time to answer:
Did these brothers have additional help, training or ties to domestic or foreign terrorist groups?
Does this event signal the increased radicalization of American residents, whether native or immigrant?
Are There Lessons Learned?
There are also some healthy warnings online regarding the dangers of politicizing these events for personal gain. I like this piece from Bloomberg which makes the point: “How to exploit the Boston bombings for political gain.”
Nevertheless, I am going forge ahead and try to highlight developments that taught me a thing or two.
1) Breaking News is Broken – stay away from Twitter – I like this piece from Slate.com which highlights the many failings of our current news organizations over the past week. There were many false alarms and false reports. Their advice?
“When you first hear about a big story in progress, run to your television. Make sure it’s securely turned off. Next, pull out your phone, delete your Twitter app, shut off your email, and perhaps cancel your service plan. Unplug your PC. Now go outside and take a walk for an hour or two….”
Wow. That may be a bit extreme, but the points are compelling if you read the rest of the article.
2) Security is everyone’s responsibility – Several commentators have pointed out that the suspect was caught because an average citizen phoned "911." I like this Washington Post article that reminds us that everyone has a part in homeland security.
3) Crowdsource investigations went wrong – The second lesson is that the self-proclaimed
experts who tried to solve this crime online were badly mistaken. I like this BBC piece on how
Internet detectives got it very wrong. And yes, it did cause some harm and pain for the falsely accused. Here’s an excerpt worth reading:
“Thousands have been tirelessly picking through the evidence -- every piece of video footage, every photo, every eyewitness account they can get their hands on. But this investigation wasn't within the confidential confines of the FBI or local police.
No, these sleuths were working in public -- discussing their theories and "leads" within massive communities such as Reddit, 4Chan, Facebook and Twitter. On Friday, those efforts ended with an apology. After hours of chatter and speculation, the standout suspect identified -- and named -- was the wrong man….”
4) The Internet turned kitchen utensils into weapons of terror -- The bombs did not appear to be made with advanced plastic explosives or cutting-edge technology. The tools used seemed to be rather simplistic, and many people have pointed out that bomb-making instructions were available online. The Boston mayor stated that the brothers acted alone; however, more information is needed on this topic. The UK's Mirror newspaper online reported new information on Sunday -- claiming the detonators were in fact sophisticated and the brothers had help from others.
5) Proud to be an American – The last lesson for me was one that I’ve already learned – but needed a reminder. Yes, I’m proud to be an American. Despite difficulties, our system worked. We don’t yet know how this story will end, but it appears that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.
In summary, a lot of security infrastructure work has been done at all levels of government since 9/11/01, and we’ve come a long way in many areas of local, state and federal law enforcement cooperation, tools and training. The national response to this incident was impressive.
Most of all, I’m glad that Boston will be back to work on Monday morning -- and running a marathon next April.