The week started on familiar ground. The sidewalk on which I walk to my dentist blown up in an act of terror. And, just as things were starting to reset to normal, Thursday night happened.
It started with a tweet from a neighbor. A block of Brookline street blocked off by police and FBI, helicopters overhead. Quickly, they were gone. Being out of town, it was just a moment of disorienting dizziness.
Then Twitter lit up. An MIT emergency alert about an active shooter in front of the Stata Building. MIT friends and colleagues started checking in, local reporters come onto the scene. As pictures surfaced, tweeters pointed others to internet sites on which you can monitor Cambridge and Boston police scanners. Red Line trains leaving Kendall were being stopped and searched. The crime scene perimeter kept changing. Police officer reported to have been shot. Huge mobilization of law enforcement resources, in keeping with the shooting of a police officer, who was now reported to have died.
More scanner traffic. A car-jacking in Cambridge. The car's locator traces the car to Watertown. Police reported to be streaming out of Kendall Square towards Watertown. Scanner traffic: "Be sure to let Watertown know they have guns", followed shortly by "shots fired", "explosions", "bombs". Scanner talk, which is often dull and boring, was full of frantic calls seeking to make sure officers were safe, determining who had been detained, whether all the suspects were in custody. When it was time to sleep, the lingering question was, were these the Marathon Bombers? Or was this some new madness?
Waking up in a strange hotel bed, thinking of home, the first impulse is to stream the usual news, WBUR, and avoid CNN, which had proven itself useless this week. The first thing heard is WBUR's veteran newswomen, Cambridge resident Robin Young talking in utter shock that suspect #2, identified overnight, had been to her home for a Cambridge Rindge and Latin prom party. She has her nephew on, talking about his friend, 19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. with whom he'd texted just a few months ago about the Superbowl. No disgruntled loner, he's described as "class clown", haa a "heart of gold", great kid. As the day rolled on, the media stream is peppered with CRLS students processing, live on air, the apparent fact that the two time captain of the wrestling team, National Honor Society member, recipient of a City scholarship, was the perpetrator of an unimaginably horific act.
In all the heated speculation about the identity of the Marathon Bomber - dark skinned, light skinned, right-wing militant, Al Qaeda - one can be sure that the phrase "Cambridge Rindge and Latin graduate" never crossed any lips. The school that produced Patrick Ewing, Ben and Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, that reflects the best of Cambridge, is now believed to have A terrorist amongst its roster of graduates. Suddenly, the mental model of what makes a terrorist changes. The trope of "he fell in with a bad crowd" - Jihadist extremists - has to give way to another thought. It wasn't long ago that smart, good kids born and raised here became disaffected with America and reemerged as the Weather Underground, bringing their own form of terror to the United States. Many of us of a certain age, though we rejected the violence of the Weather Underground, understood viscerally what path they took. Why is it so hard to understand how a new generation, driven by forces that move them similarly, takes the same path?
And with the alleged terrorist in custody, the Cambridge story line only gets stranger.On September 12, 2011, two Cambridge residents and another Cambridge native were found dead in Waltham, victims of a grizly, as yet unsolved, murder. The Boston Globe quotes an Allston gym owner saying he was introduced to one of the victims, Brendan Mess, by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother, as Tsarnaev's best friend. Cambridge natives rarely get murdered. Cambridge residents rarely become terrorists. It could be a coincidence that the best friend of an apparent Cambridge terrorist is found dead on the day after 9/11. Or, it could be something else.
With Sunday and Monday, the bizarre Cambridge story begins to return to Cambridge normal. Stories emerge of Tamerlan Tsarnaev being disruptive at the local Mosque and being told that his increasingly extreme views are not in keeping with Islam. The Cambridge School superintendent is on the radio talking about extensive preparations for students return after a school vacation week that might not have felt like much of a vacation. The Cambridge Bomb Squad spends Monday's moment of silence responding to a suspicious package in Harvard Square. One hopes that's not a harbinger of the new normal.
Politics in Cambridge has become divisive. Cambridge's good fortune to be at the epicenter of a technology boom has created a vast influx of wealth, the impact of which the Cambridge body politic is only beginning to understand. While some see this financial windfall as the engine through which we protect Cambridge values, others see it as something from which Cambridge values need protection. Despite our differences, we all see Cambridge values - inclusiveness and diversity - as worthy of protection. The attacks on Cambridge have already begun. An NPR listener comment Tuesday said that the Cambridge City Council has "a lot to answer for" in its rejection of the use of video surveillance cameras, as if video cameras could see into the mind of a developing terrorist. National politicians have come to focus on immigration and immigrants. Cambridge, which declared itself a Sanctuary City in 1985, and declined to cooperate with citizenship checks in 2010, has prided itself in being the sort of City where a kid from Chechnya can be just another kid, accepted as much as someone born and bred here. Now that two who came to our City from far away stand accused of monstrous acts, our resolve, our values will be tested like never before.