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.

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Katherine Dalton
Katherine Dalton has worked as a magazine editor, freelance feature writer and book editor.  She started in journalism in college, working at The Yale Literary Magazine during most of its controversial few years as a national magazine of opinion based at Yale.  She then worked briefly at Harper's magazine in New York, and more extensively at Chronicles magazine in Illinois, where she was a contributing editor for many years.  She has has written for various publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the University Bookman, and was a contributor to Jason Peters' volume Wendell Berry: Life and Work and Morris Grubbs' collection of interviews Conversations with Wendell Berry.  She lives in her native Kentucky.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Ms. Dalton: I am all for mercy, and I am foursquare against hate. But I do not believe that a public call to identify and/or turn in two “suspects” in a hateful bombing is the same as “mob justice”–mobs do not turn people over to the authorities. As you suggest, the two men identified as “suspects” may well be innocent–but they may also be guilty, and the only way to find that out is to have them identified, turned in, and questioned. If the two men are not guilty of any crime, couldn’t they contact the authorities themselves–or through an attorney–to explain their actions? I sympathize with your obviously heartfelt plea that we avoid a rush to judgement, but what precisely would you have law enforcement do other than what they are doing?

  2. Ms. Dalton, the FBI must following the course that they’re on. To show video and ask the nation to help find those people is not the same thing as asking the mob to grab and hang them. Innocence is the most important thing, but without holding the guilty accountable, without following every strong lead, innocence is not cared for, not made to be important, survivors, victims and families not respected. This is not to suggest that those men in the videos are guilty. Rather, and at this point in time, those men are persons of interest, and because they might know something, are people vitally important to solving this horrible crime. I think your post says more about your perspective, then what is found in reality. You seem to assume that since the authorities are out looking for these men, that they are perceived as guilty. That is not the case, and should not be the case. It is naive of you to think that if these men are not guilty that they would contact the authorities on their own. One should factor in human nature, human flaw, and the human condition, and if you do this, you too will see that the current course the authorities are on is one that makes sense. I’ve been glued to the news concerning Boston, and I am yet to find any evidence of anyone rushing to judgement, as you suggest. Again, your perspective is the cause of your skewed ideas on all this.

  3. I don’t really have anything to add to this, or maybe there is too much I could say — it’s an issue I’ve spent much of the last few days thinking about, and which keeps striking me from different directions. But this post seemed to need an “amen,” so: Amen.

  4. Hopefully it should all be cleared up after last night’s events. Innocent until proven guilty etc, but the suspects threw grenades at police. The manhunt is being conducted against a legitimate suspect. I hope that he is safely delivered into the hands of police soon.

  5. I, too, give the post an “amen.” What I fear, however, is the anarcho-tyranny which is already embedded in and made manifest in this ongoing incident.

  6. I have been thinking about this a lot.

    I have had an unusual perspective on the massive governmental intervention in Boston because my office is on the 42nd Floor of the Prudential Tower and overlooks Boylston Street and the Boston Marathon finish line. I can only see part of the finish line painted on the street because the the Lenox Hotel blocks the view — but I heard the explosions on Monday and saw the smoke rising and have watched the response all week as blocks around the Pru have been closed and hundreds of police in military gear and guardsmen and space alien-looking personnel in Hasmat suits have combed the streets.

    My home in Newton Corner is less than one mile from the location where the wounded 19 year old suspect was hunted down last night by what is likely the most massive governmental exercise of police powers in peacetime on American soil in many generations. Along with my fellow citizens, I was prevented from leaving home Friday and watched events (or non-events) most of the day on television.

    The effect on Boston of the investigation has been to shut down 20 blocks of the most dense commercial area of the city for five days (and counting) — costing local businesses millions of dollars. Public transit has been curtailed, with the Copley Station — a major urban exchange for commuter rail, light rail and bus service — closed. This has added hours of commuting time to persons who can get into work at all. And the reason for this? Purportedly, in this age when electronic data is widely available, to permit a block by block effort to collect “physical” evidence. I watched crews of workers raking and sifting gravel on the the roof of the Lord & Taylor building — presumably because some scrap of a bomb shard with unique information might otherwise be lost.

    Then, Thursday evening, the two suspects were located across the river in Cambridge. After one had been killed and the other had fled to Watertown — while the surviving suspect was known to be bleeding and to be on foot in this community nine miles east of Boston (with an ability — to the extent that he had any ability at all — to flee in any direction), our government shut down the entire Boston transit system and entered a “shelter” order for the entire City of Boston — effectively disrupting the work lives of a million people.

    My epiphany arose from an observation and a question. The observation is that in many countries of the world where terrorist attacks are, unfortunately, very common, the governmental response is proportional to the perceived threat and the government acts to minimize disruption to the community. Why then, in this case, did the U.S. and state and local governments respond disproportionately to this attack and magnify the disruption of the community?

    As soon as the question is asked, the answer is obvious. This governmental exercise was not an effort to reduce risk to a community or a nation — or an effort to minimize disruption. It was, in fact, the opposite. It was an exhibition intended to solidify fear and to justify the vast amounts of energy and treasure that that have been expended for “homeland” defense over the past dozen years. Except for a few well publicized border apprehensions and incidents averted — all of which could be counted on one’s digits without taking one’s shoes off — there have been no real terror attacks on American soil.

    This was the opportunity for a vast governmental bureaucracy to justify its existence — and if disruption of a community is the cost of that — then so be it.

  7. Mr. Wilton,

    You fleshed out in detail that which I most briefly summarized in Sam Francis’ Anarcho-Tyranny in my post just above yours.

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