Thursday, September 5, 2013

Day 32 of 365: Suspect #2 (Aka the Boston Bombing and the God-Like Status of Perpetrators)

I still refer to him as Suspect #2.

It’s not for lack of knowledge. When Boston was under shelter in place, it was the only name really on our minds. I know his name, his brother’s name, even the nickname his friends gave him in school. I know his country of origin, I know when he moved to America -- I even know his uncle’s first name.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t think he deserves me – or anyone – to say his name. I said his name when referring to the Boston bombings maybe once or twice, and both times left me feeling vile. So I call him Suspect #2 when talking about the Marathon.

It’s not that I’m hoping that refusing to call him by name will dehumanize him, making it easier to find him guilty in a court of law. It’s that we live in a day and age where people can tell you his first and last name, nickname, age, and country of origin, but have to surreptitiously use Google on their phones to name you one of the victims. Or any of the first responders.

It’s human nature to focus on the perpetrator. We want to know everything about the person who committed (or allegedly committed) such a crime, so we can be better prepared for next time. But such a focus is a lost cause. Attacks come in all shapes and sizes. So do the attackers. And we never use the information to make better headway in the world of mental health (since the majority of people who commit heinous acts are also mentally unstable). We simply focus, gossip, speculate, and move on.

But something remains. The memory of having a suspect’s face plastered on the television sets. The memory of having international news outlets saying a certain suspect’s name. The memory of elevating the perpetrator to an almost god-like status that has a direct link to copycat crimes.

What I’m saying isn’t new information. Criminologists since the 70s have been talking about this. Only, back then, the issue was serial killers instead of mass murderers. Newspapers would run the Zodiac Killer’s cryptic messages on the front page of their newspapers and sociologists around the country would bury their faces into their hands.

When you live in a society that gives up on its mentally sick, but stops the presses for people who murder, torture, bomb, decimate, the message is crystal clear: “You can go out in a blaze of glory. You can have your name be a household name. You will be remembered in infamy.”

People wonder why there has been a sudden spike in heinous, high-casualty, mass murders in seemingly peaceful, first world societies. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newton, the London Bombings, the Oslo murders, the Marathon Bombings. I maintain that the #1 reason is not because of the availability of guns (the Boston bombs were made with pressure cookers), but because we turn a blind eye to the mentally ill while 24-hour news networks are wondering what the killer’s favorite color was.

I know I can’t talk about elevating a suspect to god-like status and the Marathon Bombing without bringing up a certain publication and their interest in portraying Suspect #2 like he’s the lead singer in an indie band. But, aside from this paragraph, I won’t. Because talking about it is giving them exactly what they want. They knew what they were doing. And they knew that controversy = people talking about it = more sales. Societal consequences be damned.

But what I will focus on is what Boston did right. There’s still a lot of controversy (a controversy that happens outside of Boston, mind you), about the shelter in place. But Boston focused on all the things you are supposed to focus on to limit copycat crimes. We plastered pictures of the victims on our newspapers. We flooded news websites and social media with pictures of police officers and first responders helping save the day. We focused on the families of those who had lost loved ones. We sent pizzas to the first responders across America as a small way of saying thanks. We talked about the law enforcement officials who risked life and limb when no one really knew what was going on. We showcased stories of healing and recovery and resilience. We focused on the suspects just long enough to apprehend them.

You think you know how you’ll react if your city is ever attacked. We’ve all lived through 9/11. But then it happens in your city. In your neighborhood. On a street you used to walk by on a daily basis. And suddenly the buildings you know by heart have blasted-out windows and nothing feels safe. But, if it had to happen all over again, there is not a thing I would wish my city did differently.

By the way, Martin is the name of the 8-year-old who was killed. Lingzi was the name of the student from China. Krystle was the name of the boat crew member who was killed. Sean was the name of the MIT police officer. Jeff is the name of the man who lost both legs in the blast, only to become a symbol of Boston’s resiliency. And Carlos is the name of the Cowboy Samaritan who held Jeff’s carotid artery with his fingers as they rushed him into the ambulance.

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