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UJP Forum on Marathon Bombings Raises Critical Issues

by Duncan McFarland, UJP planning group
Duncan McFarland" Boston Marathon Bombings: Impact and Response" was the title of a well attended forum at the Cambridge Friends Center on May 20.  The program presented views and discussion on the bombings not provided by mainstream media to help form the peace and justice community response.  Speakers included Joseph Gerson from American Friends Service Committee, and a resident of Watertown; Cyrus McGoldrick,  Muslim activist and chaplain at Manhattan College; Hillary Farber, board member of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild; and Cole Harrison, Budget for All activist and executive director of Massachusetts Peace Action
While expressing appreciation for the necessary efforts of the police, speakers raised several questions not covered by the corporate media.  The massive militarization and lockdown of not only Watertown and Cambridge, but also Newton, Boston and elsewhere was not only ineffective but perhaps counterproductive.  The marathon finish line itself was covered by a major surveillance and security presence which was completely ineffective in stopping the backpack bombers.  Later, Gerson reported numerous police patrols during the day walking past the plainly visible boat where the second suspect was hiding; after the lockdown was lifted, a Watertown citizen immediately discovered the suspect.   Police and FBI rushed to lay siege to the boat, firing weapons needlessly and endangering nearby residents.
Nothing that happened gives credence that increased firepower or surveillance will do anything to improve security.  Rather it was citizen and community action both at Copley Square and in Watertown that saved lives and located the alleged perpetrator.
Members of the National Lawyers Guild called for more public dialogue about the serious constitutional and civil liberties issues.  The hugely militarized response appeared to be an effort not only to catch the suspects but also an exercise in deployment and coordination of a large military force.  The area-wide "lockdown" was a major violation of Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure -- the right for citizens to be secure in their homes unless there is particularized suspicion of criminal activity.   This was the largest Fourth Amendment violation since the internment of Japanese during World War II.  Suspension of Miranda rights as the suspect was questioned was entirely unjustified beyond the need to determine the possibility for more bombs or explosives.  
The NLG raised concerns about increasingly sophisticated survelliance technology such as miniaturized or high flying drones with facial recognition software; there is very little legal precedent dealing with numerous privacy issues.  Many states have introduced different sorts of legislation to regulate drones; in Massachusetts, Senate bill S1664.
Cyrus McGoldrick, outreach director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, spoke from the perspective of the Muslim community.  Cyrus spoke on how frequently heard references to "radicalization" of Muslims are associated with criminality and used to repress the community.  Evidence for "radicalization" can be as mundane as growing a beard or praying five times a day.  Suspicion is generated if a Muslim suspect demands his right to remain silent and be represented by a lawyer.  Surely, it is said, he must be hiding a terrorist connection.  Workshops held in a Mosque criticizing US foreign policy and wars on Islamic countries have been regarded as helping radicalize potential terrorists. In New York City, where there has been a police surveillance program for the past decade, as few as two Muslims conversing in a coffee shop can lead to the location being identified as "ethnic hotspot" and subject to surveillance.   The general atmosphere leads to shutting down of space for free expression, bullying in schools and hate crimes. Cyrus called for more communication and education on these issues and "know your rights" workshops. 
Lynn Mesa, from Chelsea where there is a large immigrant population, also spoke of the need to know your rights when the police knock at your door.  Deportations of immigrants and border deaths have increased, contributing to fear of increased police pressure and intimidation.  Lynn called for more unity among the social movements to resist the 1%.
Cole Harrison from Budget for All pointed out that the marathon bombings are the reason cited by Boston Police Commission Ed Davis for more more cameras and drones.  US homeland security has granted the Boston area  $1.3 billion in grants since 9/11 and the incident provided a way to show off the new hardware and justification for funding.  The Homeland Security annual budget is approx. $40 billion which is roughly equivalent to the sequester cuts in various social programs. (Video of Harrison's talk:
Gerson summarized some thoughts from the peace movement perspective.  He pointed out that many people in other countries such as Pakistan, Iraq and Palestine experience such incidents on a daily basis, as well as gun violence at home in urban and other communities.  US wars of aggression abroad inevitably lead to blowback and must be stopped.    Gerson called for a process of community healing, the need for jobs, outreach to mosques and action to prevent racial profiling.  We must work to prevent the growth of a culture of fear.    (Video of Gerson's talk:
The program stimulated peace activists to beginning planning followup programs of outreach to Muslim and immigrant communities, and know your rights workshops.  Anyone interested in participating may contact UJP.


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