Boston marathon

Wrong Place At the Wrong Time


As I sat down to write this post nearly two days following the terrorist attack in Boston, I realized that this is the third time since I started my blog in September 2012 that I’ve written about an unexpected national tragedy – Newtown and Hurricane Sandy being the others.  These events are happening too often, no matter how “rare” the media will say they occur.

At this point, I’m skeptical there’s much more to say about the Boston attack, we’re in the process going through the all-too-usual cycle of news that I highlighted in my story about Newtown and the media, with the additional twist of the arrest-no arrest debacle.  It makes me sad that it’s becoming old hat by now.  But, there was one specific thing that struck me as I watched the news about the attacks.

First responders tend to victims of the Boston marathon bombing

First responders tend to victims of the Boston marathon bombing

During the hours following the attack, the news reported that a young Saudi national was in custody.  It seemed that a bystander tackled the Saudi man thinking that he was involved since he was running from the bomb and “looked” suspicious.  The FBI raided the Saudi man’s house and questioned his roommate for five hours, but ultimately deemed the Saudi man, a 20-year old on a student visa, a witness and not a suspect.  In subsequent coverage, specifically on CNN, the anchors continually referred to the now innocent Saudi national as being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”  So simple.   No harm, no foul, right?

Now, we have no idea if this Saudi man is actually innocent but for now I’m assuming that the FBI – on obvious high alert – wouldn’t deem someone innocent who in fact should be a suspect.  Given that, we need to think about what it means that our Saudi friend was just in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”  If CNN and other media outlets focused on accurate reporting then they would have said that the Saudi national was “in the right place, at the wrong time, from the wrong country of origin.”  If indeed he was watching the end of the Boston marathon on Patriot’s Day, then he was exactly where he should have been – watching and celebrating a global race in a city and on a day that represents all that is good in America.  Two bombs going off while he was there and him having the wrong nationality was his “mistake.”

The obvious logic here is that if you were able to run following the bombings, you did (unless you were helping victims).  But, only one person – who was injured by the way – was tackled because he looked suspicious.  Maybe he was fascinated by American culture and wanted to see the race and participate in cheering on the runners; maybe he just happened to be in the area getting a coffee at Starbucks; maybe he took the wrong bus and ended up near the finish line.  It doesn’t matter why he was there if he didn’t do anything wrong.  No one else had to explain why they were at the finish line.  Everyone who was killed, maimed or injured in anyway was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thousands of people watch the Boston marathon this past Monday

Thousands of people watch the Boston marathon this past Monday

Let’s be clear that I don’t necessarily blame the guy who tackled the Saudi man. I can only imagine that in the heat of the moment and “fog of war” he acted upon his first instinct and did what he thought was right – and we could just as easily be hailing him as a national hero right now if his so-called “suspicions” had been accurate.

I blame the mainstream media for so quickly dismissing his actions out of hand without a deeper conversation and contributing to our bystander’s belief system.  At the end of the day, I guess it remains ok to suspect someone of wrong doing due to the color of their skin or nationality.

Perhaps when we make progress on this front, we’ll start making some real progress.

I hope all my friends in Boston are hanging in there as best as they can.  I’ll be rooting for the Red Sox this week.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/hahatango

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