The Horror We Feel Today

Khury Petersen-Smith and Sofia Arias Apr 17, 2013

There are many feelings caused by the bombings that took place yesterday at the Boston Marathon: fear, disbelief, tremendous sadness. But as we write this, horror is at the top of that list.

As this commentary was written, three people were dead and more than 130 injured by the explosions that took place yesterday afternoon near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Among those killed is an 8-year-old boy–10 children are among the wounded.

As people who attended the Marathon, we were shocked to see such a lovely day turn into an unexpected disaster.

It is hard to describe how big a deal the Marathon is here. More than 20,000 registered athletes run in it, and 500,000 people come out to watch.

We love the Marathon. It's an annual celebration of people doing something amazing: running more than 26 miles. But what we love most about the Marathon is that, in a city not known for kindness, hundreds of thousands of people come out and line the route to cheer on strangers. In a city known for its racism, crowds of overwhelmingly white people come to cheer on Africans, who invariably win the Marathon.

We were excited to go to the Marathon this year. We joined the crowds of people in Kenmore Square, near Fenway Park, one mile away from the finish line. We got teary-eyed when the first para-athletes rolled through in their wheelchairs, and again when the first wave of women pounded down the hill. We clapped and cheered with thousands of others, and then we made our way down Commonwealth Avenue toward the finish line.

When we got to the end of the route at Copley Square after pushing through the increasingly thick crowds, we were surrounded by people waiting for their loved ones to finish the race. Many had signs with their friends' and family members' names written on them. We tried to get closer to the finish line, but barricades kept us at a distance.

We decided to leave and get lunch. After lamenting that "there's no place good to get food around here," we walked about seven blocks to Chinatown. No more than an hour later, the bombs exploded right near where we were.

Our thoughts went first to the runners, who had trained with dedication and excitement for weeks and months to do this incredible thing–some of them are maimed for life. And the thousands of family members gathered at the finish line. And also to the Arabs, Muslims and South Asians who would inevitably be blamed for this nightmare.

Sure enough, within hours of the explosions, the New York Post was reporting that "a Saudi national" was suspected of the bombing and in custody. This turned out to be false, but facts didn't get in the way of the Post accusing Arab Muslims of the attack before the blood had dried. Likewise, right-wing fanatic and Fox News commentator Erik Rush tweeted that Muslims are "evil. Let's kill them all." It was a genocidal remark that Rush later downplayed as "sarcasm."

The state's response doesn't bode well for those targeted groups, nor for our civil liberties. The Boston police were mobilized in full force, along with the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Special Forces units and 1,500 National Guard troops were activated as well, and apparently, they are here to stay for an indefinite period. According to the Boston Globe, "The scores of rifle-wielding state troopers, National Guard members in fatigues, and municipal SWAT teams who descended on the city Monday will continue to patrol on Tuesday, particularly around the finish line of the marathon in the Back Bay."

Gov. Deval Patrick announced that Boston will have a "heightened law enforcement presence" in the city, with "random" bag searches in the mass transit system. And as the media have begun their racial profiling, law enforcement has as well. CNN reported that investigators were searching for a "darker-skinned or black male with a possible foreign accent in connection with the attack."

But as the state responds with fear, force and racism, we have seen heartening responses as well. Many people flocked to hospitals to donate blood for the victims of the explosions. Businesses opened their doors to people who wanted to gather, rest and charge their phones. Many people reflected on social media about how experiencing this violence so close to home gives them a new understanding of the bombings that Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Palestinians and others–so much of which is caused and supported by the U.S. government–deal with on a regular basis.

And, of course, there were the first responders who rushed to the carnage in Copley Square to save lives and help the wounded. Among these was our friend Carlos.

Carlos and Melida Arredondo are well known to antiwar activists, participants in Occupy Boston and countless others who have been blessed to work with them. The Arredondos lost both of their sons–Alex, a U.S. Marine, to the occupation of Iraq, and Brian to suicide. The Arredondos carry their grief from these losses alongside their hope for a better world and their tireless activism to fight for it. Carlos can be seen in news photos from yesterday, helping the wounded, when he was wounded from shrapnel himself.

We hope that this is the example that inspires Bostonians–that people will reject more policing in the name of "security," reject racist fear of Arabs, Muslims, South Asians and immigrants, and instead, face this tragedy with courage, compassion and a resolve to work for a world free of violence and oppression.

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