Running Toward Danger – Now That’s Courage!

Heartless psychopaths planted two home-made pressure cooker bombs loaded jam packed with tiny nails and ball bearings at the finish line at the Boston Marathon last Monday.

27,000 runners from 96 countries converged on Boston to run a race repeated every year since 1897.

When the container ripped apart from the exploding powders within, projecting shrapnel from the torn cooker, hurling nails and ball bearings indiscriminately, it cut legs, maimed, and even killed three innocents including an eight year old boy who had just congratulated his Dad on finishing the long race.

Unaware of any danger, distracted, celebrating a world-renowned athletic event convened on Patriots Day, runners, family, and friends were enjoying a grand race on a day that honors our revolutionary spirit, when our forbears resisted British rule at the battles of Lexington and Concord.

A momentary and understandable panic enveloped this marvelous sporting event when first, one bomb, and then another down the street sent powerful shock waves at ground level, knocking a 78 year old runner to the ground, pumping clouds of white smoke straight up into the air, transforming the viewing spaces by the finish line from a crowd of contented onlookers into a scene of screaming carnage.

A pastor at the ceremonial service afterwards, on this past Thursday, said he was at a loss to understand where God was on the day of the twin bombings.

Of course, if we truly have free will, some are free to choose to kill innocents – as happened that day – and without God’s willing it.

I’d like to think, however, that there was a divine will at work, inspiring runners, family, friends, citizens, police, emergency personnel, doctors, and nurses to run into the smoke of the explosions, without knowing whether there were other explosions to come, toward the screams of pain, toward the fallen, undeterred by blood and severed limbs, so that they could help those in pain and shock.

Some philosophers talk about our connection, one to the other, and how we will risk our lives for another, even for a complete stranger, at the risk of our own.

After the investigation that followed, we focused the nation’s attention on two brothers that the authorities and the relentless news outlets declared responsible for this inhumane outrage.

One brother is now dead. The surviving younger brother is wounded, in custody, and recovering at a hospital.

Unfortunately, this is where all that we accomplished may run off the tracks.

The federal crime that seems to fit the array of daily news reports is using weapons of mass destruction (18 United States Code Section 2332a), and the surviving suspect could therefore face a death penalty if the Attorney General makes that determination; by contrast, Massachusetts has no death penalty.  For the purposes of this statute, the “weapon” must only be a “destructive device,” defined elsewhere in the federal code (18 United States Code Section 921), as any “bomb.”

Some would prefer we charged an act of “terrorism” (18 United States Code Section 2332b), but we’d have to have “conduct transcending national boundaries” and, at this writing, there’s no such evidence.

There are those in the government who insist that a team of special “interrogators” interview the hospitalized surviving suspect without telling him he has a right to remain silent.

You all know that an accused in custody has a right to remain silent. It is true that there is a Supreme Court case that said, under more narrow circumstances than we have here, that there can be an exception to advising a person he has a right to remain silent, a public safety exception.

There are several problems with that.

First, the authorities told the public when the surviving suspect was arrested that the public was safe. Oops!

Second, you probably can see why this “exception,” if applied as the government proposes, could engulf the constitutional right to remain mum in any case involving public safety, like when guns or bombs are involved.

Third, if the government decides later that it’s a tad short on evidence, and the Court decides, “you G-men went too far,” then whatever leads the government follows from what the suspect said, may be thrown out, as well as whatever he said.

Fourth, this may be a lot of thumb sucking because, in the end, the hospitalized suspect may not be able to speak, or he may be smart enough on his own to say that he’d prefer to be silent and have an attorney advise him who was forthright about his rights.

Some others want to treat our suspect, who is a citizen, naturalized a year ago, as if he were a war combatant and try him by a military tribunal. No matter that there is no evidence that he is a combatant. At worst, he is a remorseless killer.

Boston was unbowed by this tragedy. The people showed great courage.

Our government should show some courage, trust in the rights of an Accused to choose not to be a witness against himself and to demand a public trial by his peers.