I woke up Friday morning to find local police—soon joined by FBI agents and SWAT team members—manning a barricade outside my living room window, and quickly came to realize that the losers who murdered an eight-year-old boy, two young women, and a young man working hard to achieve his dream of becoming a member of my town’s police force, and who gravely injured dozens more, had been living less than 200 meters from my front door.
I don’t recall ever having met either suspect, although, given that I walk past their house every day, it is almost certain we did cross paths or sit on the same bus. Dzhokhar’s Cambridge Rindge & Latin school, after all, was across the street from my favorite sandwich shop, on the way to my office at Harvard, and on the #69 bus route I frequently use. I still wonder if the slightly-built young man in a white cap I saw one afternoon last week sitting in the grassy vacant lot across from my building was the now infamous Dzhokhar.
For nearly 12 hours, I watched from my apartment, which lay inside an enlarged police cordon for much of the day, as law enforcement officials, including bomb squad members and FBI tactical agents carefully inspected the area around the suspects' car and house. In the process, they broke into the car and set off two controlled explosions. Staying inside, I followed the story on local TV and on Russian websites, knowing that crossing the cordon would likely mean having to stay outside it for an indeterminate period.
Moreover, as a young male of Pakistani descent, I was wary—having done so more than a few times since 9/11—of attracting the wrong type of attention at a time when sensitivities were high. There were other practical considerations as well: businesses were closed, as was public transport. That the weather was perfect, as a scene from the video game Grand Theft Auto played out on my doorstep, seemed especially ironic.
This has been a tough week for the Boston area. It has also been—and I say this without in any way downplaying the tragic and criminal loss of life or limb here—a tragic week for dozens of families who were victims of terror in Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. One very much hopes that all those who are thinking of Boston's terror victims will not forget to include in their thoughts the dozens of victims of terror this week in other countries who often escape the focus of mainstream media and popular opinion. Many of them died defending the values of tolerance and freedom of expression we all hold dear; others died simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time; most were poor.
We do not usually hear much about them, and certainly very little about their individual lives and stories. I find all the global displays of solidarity with the people of Boston deeply touching, and hope that this week’s events will give us renewed determination to stand in solidarity with the people of Pakistan, India, Palestine, Israel, Russia, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and countless other places around the world that are victims of terror no less criminal and inhuman than that witnessed in Boston and Cambridge this week.
I also hope that all those truly sick politicians and lobbyists who with one hand penned statements about “standing with Boston” and being “Boston strong” while using the other to block once again attempts at gun control—arguing that the answer to tragedies like Newtown is to have more armed police at public places like schools, or to facilitate the purchase of assault rifles for “self defense” by private citizens—will be exposed for the frauds that they are.
I saw dozens of federal agents and SWAT team members in the last 24 hours of the manhunt, and they were but a small part of a larger effort that involved several thousand heavily armed officials chasing after a lone 19-year-old gunman who brought one of America’s largest cities to a standstill. None of them seemed to lack in firepower or equipment of any sort (there were several Blackhawk helicopters circling over the city as well). Indeed, if assault rifle-toting veterans of the regular branch of a major metropolitan police force require an army of paramilitary commandos to rein in a single gunman, it is hard to understand how arming soccer moms with AR-15s would prevent and contain similar incidents in the future. If Friday's events were not the NRA’s proposed model in action—whereby heavily armed law enforcement and an armed citizenry control gun violence—it is hard to imagine what would be. The model—which as Bostonians now know all too well, also depends on citywide lockdowns—hardly seems effective as a long-term strategy.