Boston Marathon Bombing and Civil Liberties: “You messed with the wrong city…”

My daughter, a current Bostonian, who was about a quarter mile away from the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, and who lives 1.5 miles from the scene of today’s police shoot-out, sent me an article by Dennis Lehane in the NY Times, and a clip of the Colbert Report.  The message was the same in both of them: “You messed with the wrong city.”  I resonated with both the article and the clip, and I wanted to talk about how I believe Boston is going to react, long term,  in the face of acts of mass violence.

Lehane took pains to explain that the feeling “You messed with the wrong city” wasn’t macho sentiment, it was just fact.  We have no tolerance for this kind of“crap.”  Life is tough enough, without this on top of it.  It is a collective sentiment, and it didn’t at all surprise me that the city is in total lock down right now.

Instead, it made me feel homesick.

Bostonians don’t much care if they have to face massive imposition to restore a sense of “order” from “chaos.”  Living there, they have to re-impose order all the time. For example, we’d have to put chairs in our shoveled out parking spaces in Dorchester to have someplace to park our cars when we’d return home in the evening.  And we accepted the fact that, once in a while, we’d have to put up with “an idiot” who moved that “friggin’ chair,” in order to steal our parking space.

Bostonians in Dorchester will wait hours by the window, watching (patiently or not), for that person, (“that idiot” ), the one who moved said chair, to come back to that “friggin car.”  Then, even if they are a typically non-violent type, they dutifully get their coat, hat, and boots on, and scramble down three flights of stairs, to tell “that idiot” that moving that chair  was a very bad move on their part, and should not be repeated.  And it is said in a distinctly unfriendly tone.  Or more impactfully, a menacing tone.  Because some things are worth getting pissed about.

Locking down the city is no different.  If The Mayor has to knock on every friggin’ door and check under every single friggin’ bed, just do it.  When you are dealing with “an idiot,” you do what has to be done.

Why they did this crime is not the point. “Some idiot” thought it was a good idea to bomb the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and now Bostonians have to do whatever it takes, tolerate any inconvenience, to catch them.  Where city officials elsewhere would carefully weigh the “cost-benefit analysis,” take the pulse of the polis, The Mayor in Boston knows how we feel.

In Beantown, we say “Screw that, Mr. Mayor, just get it done.

Shooting The Bird.

When my brother learned of my plans to move from a perfectly safe Doomstead, back into the city, he gave me some sage advice: “You know when you’re driving here, you’re going to have to practice giving people ‘the finger’ instead of ‘the wave’.  I knew what he meant. When you live in Mayberry, you wave at people when you drive by. When you live in Boston, he’s reminding me that you have to keep “the idiots” in line by shooting them “the finger.”

New Yorkers’ honk, which to a Bostonian, is a crude and impersonal act, that will make them “an idiot,” in the mind of the average Bostonian. Why annoy everyone, just because of one idiot?

In Boston, we do it this way: We drive like a maniac for the opportunity to lock eyes with the offending driver, and then, only then, with contempt in our eyes, do we shoot them “the bird.”  It is personal.  It says: “I want you to know, that  know, that you’re an idiot.”  Confrontational driving in Boston is defensive driving.  Almost a civic duty.

Bostonians don’t expect city officials to do magic.  But we do expect them to control “the idiots” when things get out of hand. We know that it just isn’t sensible to ask The Mayor to keep the snow plows from dumping snow in our driveways every time they pass. We accept the fact that we have to pay outrageous rents, and sit in endless traffic.  And we have to deal with draconian measures, however invasive, to deal with “idiots” who do “crazy” things.

Collectively we say: “Get it done, Mr. Mayor, then get on with it.”

Clang the Pans, Call the Landlord, and then get on with it.

I heard they “shut down” Boston today. I wasn’t the least bit disturbed by any potential infringement to civil liberties. I thought of it more like what used to happen to me in San Francisco, when the apartment had to be sprayed for a chronic infestation of cockroaches.

There comes a time, if you live in a row house in the Haight Asbury, that you have to clang a pan at night, before turning on the kitchen light, to spare yourself the sight of cockroaches darting to escape the brightness.

Then you know that it is time to call the landlord and invite them to come spray poison.

You know the cockroaches return a short time after the poison gets sprayed.  You have to live with them, and they with you.  But you don’t think it is wise to spray every single day to claim utter and total victory. We accepted that cockroaches come with living in a highly desirable location.  But there are limits as to what we will tolerate as a solution to these types of problems.

If, in a year from now, you want to inspect my handbag before I get on the Red Line each morning, “the people” and their elected officials are going to have “problems” with that, and The Mayor knows it.

We  don’t care what Homeland Security tells him to do. He’s The Mayor.  It is hiscity.  If he doesn’t want to be “an idiot,”  he’ll say “no” to putting up thousands of government surveillance cameras like they have in London (Boston has a lot fewer). Let private companies keep their’s, but don’t expect tax payers to fund the government doing it. Next thing you know, they’ll mail us traffic tickets, like they do in London, without even requiring a cop to eyeball us.  And  worse yet, for some of us, we won’t be able to get anyone to “fix” the ticket.

No thanks.  Keep those cameras out of Boston.

Which brings me to my final point: Every place that deals with acts of violence on a random or massive scale is going to deal with this outrage somewhat differently. I’d like to think “Now I know how Israeli’s must feel,”  but that’s just B.S.  I don’t.  And Israelis are going to deal with this kind of violence differently than the Afghan’s, who had US bombs dropped on them “in retaliation” for 9/11, but even people in the US, never mind Afghan peasants, don’t understand how those two are linked.

As someone who grew up in Boston, I heard a news reporter call the people enjoying the Boston Marathon “civilians,” and I got really angry. When you begin to refer to people as “civilians,” you split the world into two halves: “civilians” and “military,” and in doing so, imply a whole new way of life…a battle ground, instead of a city.  And battle grounds need surveillance. It’s a way of living, psychologically that I reject with every fiber of my being.

Bostonians aren’t “civilians,” and we should refuse to live in a war-zone. We should refuse to live with chronic surveillance as part of “normal life.” If you have cockroaches, you have to spray once in a while, but not every day. The risk to one’s health spraying all the time is worse than the cockroaches.  In the case of surveillance, it is psychological health and democratic health, but the point is still the same.

If you have to pull out strands of my hair to test for bomb debris, today, just do it.  If you have to close down the city, and fill it with bomb sniffing dogs, by all means.

Then get on with it.

But if your plan is to, from this day forward, infringe on my civil liberties “in case” some kid thinks terrifying a city tomorrow will prove something, you’re an idiot, and I would expect Bostonians to resist you, every step of the way.

Bostonians are people who anticipate a degree of hardship and injustice. They expect a certain level of inconvenience and trouble. And they realize that it isn’t possible for law enforcement to keep every kid, with an ax to grind, from creating terror and chaos.  And when some kid commits such a heinous act, it is very, very personal.

You messed with my city.

You put your car in my shoveled out parking space.

You Moved. My. Chair.

Therefore, you are “an idiot” (or, after 20 years of schooling, you learn to say “you are mentally ill”…) and you have to be dealt with.  And The Mayor will see to it that you are caught.

And when you ARE caught, let the rest of us just get on with it.  Let us grieve, mourn, heal, but don’t use it as an excuse to be “an idiot” and monitor our daily lives.

Because things in Beantown are so very, very personal.  And so is our desire to get on with life without infringement.


About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.

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