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We Know How To Defend Liberty And Justice For All — We Invented It

This article is more than 6 years old.

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon attacks, the fear that gripped the Boston metropolitan area quickly gave way to anger: How dare these thugs attack our marathon, our Patriots’ Day, our very way of life?

But violent attacks cannot destroy the Boston Marathon, Patriots’ Day, or our free society. Only our reaction could do that kind of damage.

We live in the state that gave our country its basic freedoms. The world now looks to us to set the standard of how a free people should respond to violent attacks on our traditions and our collective psyche. We must now rededicate ourselves to a defiant defense of our civil liberties.

The world now looks to us to set the standard of how a free people should respond to violent attacks on our traditions and our collective psyche. We must now rededicate ourselves to a defiant defense of our civil liberties.

We should applaud the Obama administration’s decision to try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a civilian court. A fair trial, with the constitutional protections he is due, is the best way to see that justice is done, and the only way that comports with our Constitution. Civilian courts have successfully prosecuted more than 400 terrorism cases since 9/11 alone, and there’s little doubt that will happen once again in this case.

Contrast this with the embarrassing failure of military commissions to obtain more than a handful of convictions (seven, of which only three stuck) or to meet basic American standards of justice. Our military has an important role to play in a free society; Patrolling streets and enforcing laws in a free society is not one of them.

We must resist calls to use racial and religious profiling as result of these attacks. People who commit violent acts come from many different backgrounds, regions, races, religions and political causes. Blaming an entire belief community for the acts of a few individuals misdirects security resources, as we learned when both the public and law enforcement wrongly targeted members of the Arab and South Asian communities in the immediate aftermath of the bombings.

Likewise, junk theories of “Islamic radicalization” are both wrong and dangerous. The U.S. intelligence community and multiple studies confirm that neither Islam nor any form of political “radicalization” accurately predicts violent behavior. To the contrary, most perpetrators of mass violence are alienated from all religious communities and political groups. Efforts to mimic wrong-headed policies of the NYPD and FBI by focusing on people they label as “radicals” will create false leads and undermine trust between law enforcement and communities that play a key role in helping the police to prevent and solve crime.

Suggestions that we should permit these attacks to stall efforts to reform our immigration system are equally misguided. After all, many of the key-players in the Boston Marathon attacks were either non-citizens or immigrants. The passenger in the hijacked car was from China. Carlos Arredondo, the man who saved lives in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, who we’ve come to know as the hero in the cowboy hat, is an immigrant from Costa Rica who only recently became an American citizen. Even Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who told a packed house at Fenway Park that “This is our @#$%ing city,” is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who has been in Boston for only a decade.

Like millions of immigrants before them, these people have made our communities richer and stronger than we would have been without them. Our welcoming of immigrants is at the core of what makes Boston great. Eleven million aspiring citizens in this country — and the integrity of our immigration system — should not fall victim to the horrific and violent actions of two individuals.

Security cameras may be appropriate at high-profile public places and events where people understand that they have little or no expectation of privacy. But high-tech tracking is no panacea.

Finally, we must not rely on a misplaced faith in technology to keep us safe. To be sure, there were more than enough video cameras at the finish line, yet surveillance helped to track down the alleged Boston Marathon bombers only after an eyewitness at the scene gave police a description of the bombers. Facial recognition and other biometric readers did not successfully identify the Boston Marathon bombers, even though both of the suspects’ images were in official government databases.

Security cameras may be appropriate at high-profile public places and events where people understand that they have little or no expectation of privacy. But high-tech tracking is no panacea. Moreover, it should be used only in situations in which police have probable cause to believe that a suspect has committed a crime, and only in conjunction with legal and technological safeguards against abuse. In our quest for public safety, we must safeguard against diversions of public safety resources and the wrongful arrest of innocent people.

Many questions about the Boston Marathon bombings remain, including whether the FBI and CIA databases have grown so enormous that they miss the bad guys, and whether we need clear protocols for when and how long to deploy “shelter-in-place” requests.

But so far, the people and leaders of Massachusetts have responded as true American patriots and remain defiant in our defense of civil liberties in a free society.


Kim M edit

This piece was co-authored by Kim V. Marrkand, president of the ACLU of Massachusetts board of directors and a member of the ACLU since the 1970s.

This program aired on April 30, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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