Just a few hours ago Boston FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers held a press conference in that city to present two security camera films of what the government is calling suspects in the bombing of the Boston Marathon crowd on Patriot’s Day.
The language the FBI is using is very accusatory in a case that must still be uncertain, and I thought of an insight of Agatha Christie’s: that when a crime has been committed the most important thing is not guilt, but innocence. There is something horrible about this worldwide-publicized manhunt for two unknowns whom we as a nation are asked to identify from blurry videos—and then turn in. It feels too much like an appeal to mob justice, and that is a rough justice indeed. These men may be guilty. They may also, like Richard Jewell or Steven Jay Hatfill, simply be very unlucky. Or an innocent person may look like one of these men, and suffer from the misidentification for a long time.
As I listened to the radio I remembered my husband’s colleague Tammy, who on the morning of September 11, 2001, had the courage and the charity to lead her office in a prayer that included, also, the men who had crashed those planes and killed so many innocent people. I am no enemy to legal justice, or to the death penalty for a capital crime. But as her prayer reminded us all on that sad day, there is another thing that is more important than guilt–and it is a mercy that can rise above hate even in the face of hate. It is hard to remember that, when your child or your neighbor is dead or legless, and I will not wag my finger at anyone who has suffered. But it is still true.