I am not offended by the Rolling Stone Magazine Cover photo of Boston Marathon bombing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The cover has been at the center of much controversy over the last 48 hours, and criticism has run rampant that the cover implies a certain glorification of the terrorist on a medium usually reserved for rock stars and cult heroes. Numerous businesses throughout New England have refused to sell the magazine in their stores. Boston Mayor Tom Menino sent a letter directly to Rolling Stone condemning the portrayal of Tsarnaev. When I first saw the cover photo Tuesday night, I wanted to be mad. I really did. I enjoyed watching people on twitter blast Rolling Stone all night long and into yesterday. We’re #BostonStrong, damn it. But I was just numb to it really.
On the day of the Boston Marathon I happily watched thousands of runners cross my vantage point from the 9-mile mark in Natick only to get a call from my boss an hour later telling me it was mayhem at the finish line and I needed to track down the 7 runners representing my organization as well as their family members who we knew were at the finish line. Luckily all “my people” were safe and accounted for but unfortunately the same could not be said for young Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, and later Sean Collier, as well as the hundreds of others who were seriously injured.
In the ensuing months we’ve heard stories of great heroism on behalf of first responders and everyday citizens, as well as chilling tales of the pursuit and capture of the cowardly Tsarnaev brothers. While I cannot imagine the grief felt by the victims and their families, the entire region has come together over the last few months to heal. Plans are in the works for a 2014 Boston Marathon that promises to be tremendous.
All this said there are still many facets to be hashed out about this terrible terrorist attack. And it would behoove us all to obtain as much information as we can about the circumstances of the attack so maybe, just maybe, we can help prevent such a thing in the future. Part of this information is finding out who these terrorists are (or were). This is where the Rolling Stone cover comes in.
Perhaps it would be easier for us all to accept if the terrorist looked like Osama Bin Laden, spoke in foreign tongues, and was a sociopathic recluse for his whole life. Unfortunately Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looks kind of like I did when I was 19. He looks like a lot of our friends, our sons, our brothers. By many accounts – and don’t get me wrong it was hard to stomach reading some of this – he was a well-liked, friendly young man. Is Rolling Stone supposed to portray him differently?
By portraying Tsarnaev as those closest-to-him knew him to be, both in the cover photograph and in print, Rolling Stone gives us concerned citizens a more accurate account of the circumstances of this case. Again, the narrative would be much easier if he had just been a crazy nut-job his whole life. We could easily separate ourselves from his evil. However we are now armed with the uncomfortable knowledge that this sort of hideous evil can creep into the most seemingly typical of people. With this knowledge comes an even greater responsibility for us to look after our own communities and the children within them.
I understand the negative reaction to Rolling Stone. I get why Mayor Menino wrote the letter to the magazine. But a lot of it feels like an unproductive “lowest common denominator” reaction based in fear and hate, which is right out of the terrorist playbook. Sure, nothing wrong with a little social media vitriol thrown the way of a magazine desperate for some PR, but if we are truly #BostonStrong, let’s try to learn from even the most horrible of incidents and take some positive actions in our communities by doing all we can to not let vulnerable people slip through the cracks.