Just as Boston was beginning to hunker down for a 48-hour manhunt that ended in the death of one suspected bomber and the wounding and capture of the other, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree was already envisioning the healing process that would be needed after the tragedy that took place only hours earlier.
“I’m getting emails from people already talking about what we need to do to move forward and how we need to openly express not only support for this great country and the leadership of our president and our governor and our local mayor and police authorities, but also our willingness to have the conversations with our children and grandchildren, and neighbors and friends and even some enemies about how we have to come together as communities to combat these senseless acts of violence like this one,” he said in a telephone interview. “So this will lead to further dialog and further activities rather than people simply being stunned and angry and disappointed. I think they want to do something that makes a difference.”
Ogletree, nationally known as a civil rights icon and thought leader, was among the founders of the Charles Hamilton Houston Center for Race and Justice, which he now directs at Harvard, located in Cambridge, Mass., a suburb of Boston. In the coming months, he envisions the Center, named after the iconic civil rights lawyer of the 1960s, growing as a hub for those conversations that could lead to healing among communities.
“It’s no question that the Charles Hamilton Houston Center will use this as another stepping point to have larger dialog. Rodney King urged us to think…more than two decades ago, when he said, ‘Why can’t we all get along,’” Ogletree recalled the poignant words of the now deceased former victim of police brutality. “I think we could answer his question. We’re going to see to it that that happens and we’re going to make sure that whoever is responsible for this goes through the justice system in an appropriate way.”
Later, through video and eye witnesses, Police and FBI quickly narrowed down the Boston Marathon bombing suspects to Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, brothers of Chechnyan descent. During a massive manhunt that shut down the city of Boston and surrounding communities, Tamerlan was killed amidst a gun battle with police. Dzhokhar, 19, is now hospitalized with gunshot wounds and has been charged with use of a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property. Authorities say he is lucid and communicating and has reportedly written that the motive was to “defend Islam.” He reportedly cannot talk because of a gunshot wound to his throat.
The attacks included the explosion of two bombs near the finish line. It left three people dead, nearly 200 suffering physical wounds, but thousands more emotionally and psychologically traumatized.
Despite what appears to be an increasing number of terrorist attacks on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, experts say they are minimal compared to those abroad.
“We have far less terrorism in this country than in many others. Countries in Asia, the Middle East, South America yearly have far larger numbers of terrorist acts,” says Jack Levin, co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston.
He says international terrorism is actually rare in the U. S. “The terrorism in this country tends to come, not from politics, but from psychopathology. Most of the terrorist acts are not from other countries. They’re not international. The vast majority are domestic in origin committed by American citizens for personal reasons.”
His words harkened to the mass murders by gun fire that have taken place over the past several years, including the Virginia Tech University, the Aurora movie theater, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Despite the new vigilance and the relief expressed by Bostonians that the suspects were quickly apprehended, Levin predicts a long road to healing.
“We’re not going to heal as quickly as the residents of New York City for one reason alone – the city of New York is so much larger than Boston,” Levin said. “When tourists visit New York, they think of Broadway,” he said, explaining that the larger the city, the less people will actually identify the act of violence with the city because of its vast reputation.
Boston – like Newtown, Conn., the location of Sandy Hook Elementary – will probably take much longer to heal from the shock simply because of its size, he says.
Ogletree agrees the attack has left a city awakened to violence in way it never expected as well as dealing with principles of justice that must be respected.
“This is a tragic reminder of the terror that we all experienced on Sept. 11, 2001. It reminds us that we still can’t assume that where we live or what we do makes us safe from threats like this. It also is a reminder that when people use tactics like this, it’s no longer a global or national or even state event, it can be very local and can be very public and can lead to this tragedy that we saw here,” Ogletree says. “So I think it just requires all of us to be vigilant, to respect the need for more security, and yet not to engage in unwarranted and unnecessary profiling along racial, religious or ethnic lines. That can be very dangerous.”