Jackson: Sometimes, justice isn’t enough
Today we are all Bostonians, and as the United States of Beantown, we want answers. We deserve answers. Ultimately, we shall have answers.
President Obama vows the grotesque perpetrator(s) in Monday’s Boston Marathon massacre will be apprehended, and will know the full expression of U.S. justice. As George W. Bush did before Obama, and Bill Clinton did before Bush, and Ronald Reagan did before Clinton and so on to the early days of the republic when, rising to the challenge of the Barbary pirates, Thomas Jefferson growled famously, “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
On the subject of hunting down bad guys who express their politics by attacking American innocents, U.S. presidents tend to be prophetic. Sooner or later, one way or the other, we nail ’em.
And then what?
This is not to demean in any way the importance of swift, certain and total justice. The idea of getting caught and being punished is more than just complementary half-hours of the “Law and Order” television franchise. It’s what keeps 99 percent of us from acting on our worst impulses.
But vital as it is, sometimes even the finest after-the-fact justice is not enough. This is one of those times.
Two explosions in close succession launched shrapnel ripping through runners and well-wishers near the finish line at America’s best-known marathon Monday afternoon, redefining wrong time, wrong place. Justice will not resurrect the dead or restore severed limbs and shattered senses.
Far beyond Boylston Street, justice cannot erase the horrific images of random savagery, or restore our sense of well-being. Nothing will ever be the same, all over again. Riveted to our video screens, we gasped anew with every fresh replay; wept at the sight of the wounded; cheered those who instinctively ran toward the chaos; and prayed the impossible prayer: Make this go away; undo this terrible thing.
In the absence of divine intervention, soon enough — perhaps already — our attention will be diverted to thoughts of proactivity. What can we do so this never happens again?
And there we are, once more walking the razor’s edge where freedom competes with personal security. Benjamin Franklin spoke memorably and bleakly about the tradeoff, saying those willing to swap the first for a temporary dose of the latter “deserve neither.”
Then again, although he experimented with electricity, Franklin didn’t know the first thing about Wi-Fi, digital cameras and omnivorous databases, and those technologies may yet enhance public safety with virtually no impact on individual freedom.
Would broader application of cameras in public spaces make sense? Their use is touted as both a crime-solver and a criminal deterrent in London, in lower Manhattan and, indeed, in Tampa, where unblinking eyes on poles are an enduring benefit from last summer’s Republican National Convention.
“Talk to people who have lost somebody in one of these terrorist incidents and say, ‘Would you rather have your loved one dead or a camera on the telephone pole?’ I think they’d say they’d take the camera on the telephone pole,” New York Congressman Peter King says.
Locally, we know this, at minimum: Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco can scarcely get through a press briefing or a speech to Rotarians without touting the virtues of intelligence-led policing, which stresses concentrating resources on the worst actors and the hottest locations. Plainly, surveillance cameras, standing perpetual guard and never asking for overtime pay, would enhance that effort.
Wait. Almost certainly, once the bomber(s) is/are apprehended we will learn more about how, or whether, law enforcement and race organizers missed their cues, and also whether cameras in abundance would have made any difference.
We should be careful, then, about what we ask from our lawmakers in this moment of fury, sorrow, frustration and fear. We want answers. In the interest of justice, let’s make sure they’re the right ones.