Paralyzed, the pundits are saying. A city terrorized, brought to a halt. An overreaction.
Don’t believe it.
On Friday, the city of Boston was waiting. Crouching, like a tiger in tall grass. We were two million souls focused on a single target: a crazed and wounded boy, desperate and dangerous, hiding somewhere in Watertown, gone to ground. To flush him out, the city held still.
There’s a difference between paralysis and stillness. Stillness is deliberate. It was a tool – a tactical move. The police did not order us to stay in our houses – they requested it, and we complied, not because we were terrorized and not because we were sheep to the police state, but because we knew that in doing so, we left the police and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the only pieces out on the board. We wanted him captured. For us, staying indoors on Friday was no different from staying in during a winter storm so that the snowplows could clear the streets. We were giving the professionals room to work.
Because at its heart, Boston believes in expertise, and in order. Sure, we may be a liberal bastion of fornicators – as the world now knows, Boston is a city that keeps its dildos on top of the fridge – but we are also a city of professionals, and we believe in letting them get shit done.
You could see it in the response of the hospitals after the bombing on Monday, the stream of doctors and hospital workers reporting for duty, triaging the wounded, working together to make sure that no one emergency room was overwhelmed by casualties.
And you could hear it in the calm, patient voices of the police, crackling over the scanner Thursday night. More than seven different police agencies had to coordinate in the dark, densely residential streets of Watertown, and they did it without panic or fractiousness. When the LAPD was hunting Christopher Dorner, they put innocent people in the hospital. Our law enforcement officers – as much as we usually enjoy abusing them as racist buffoons – showed themselves in this crisis to be canny, patient, and disciplined. They did not engage in racial profiling. They didn’t abuse the people they were there to protect.
While yahoos in other parts of the country imagined that Bostonians must long to take to the streets with guns to hunt our fugitive down, in reality, we would much rather let our competent police force do it. And they did.
They successfully captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev alive – without a single civilian injury.
And it’s important, too, that Tsarnaev was taken alive. Many, many people in the city were praying for Tsarnaev’s life on Friday. We wanted justice and answers, not revenge, not a corpse. We want to hear why he did this obscene thing to us, to people we loved, on a day so many of us think of as the best day of the year.
The reason we love Marathon Day is because it gives us a chance to cheer for something simple and pure and good. We stand at the sidelines and cheer the names that the runners have taped to their shirts or written on their arms; we enter into a partnership between the ones who are running for no reason but to run, and the ones who are cheering for no reason but to love.
On Friday, when the words we were waiting for came – “conscious, alive, and captured” – the city burst out of doors. People lined the streets in Watertown, cheering and clapping the police as they rolled out of the neighborhood. On Beacon Street, a stream of whooping kids poured along the Marathon route, high-fiving strangers. It was the Marathon again. We were cheering for something very simple, something good.
“THIS IS WHAT CIVILIZATION LOOKS LIKE, MOTHERFUCKERS” tweeted one Bostonian.
This is what civilization looks like. Boston strong.