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Reactions to Dzhokhar: Hatred, anger...empathy?

Posted by Joanna Weiss  April 24, 2013 10:43 AM

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Photos show him dropping a bomb near the Boston Marathon finish line. He allegedly killed a police officer in cold blood. But while his older brother fit the stereotype of the dangerous extremist -- distant, cruel, driven by ideology -- 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had friends. Went to prom. Was considered "a nice guy."

The dissonance has sent some people deep into fringe territory. There's a #FreeJahar movement on Twitter and a Facebook group claiming his innocence. But some others, devastated by the bombings, have nonetheless confessed to mixed emotions this week: to wondering how Tsarnaev felt, what he thought, as he cowered in a boat in a Watertown backyard.

Expressing those ideas can be a clumsy thing, as singer Amanda Palmer now admits about her "poem for dzhokhar," a rambling, widely-slammed free verse about boats, iPhones, and Vietnamese spring rolls. Some recoil at the idea of equating him with a victim. But is empathy different from sympathy? Does it make us hopelessly naive, or simply human?

What went through your mind this week? Tell us in the comments, or tweet at the hashtag #BostonEmpathy and @BostonComment.

Imagining his story is part of the tragedy, too

Students who have spoken in the media and to each other are unable to accept the simplistic notion of Tsarnaev as the symbol of evil. They have struggled with the complexities of who this person was: “He wasn’t one of them; he was one of us”; “He’s only 19; he must be so scared”...As we all struggle to come to terms with losses of life and innocence in the carnage of the past week, Rindge kids remind us that even this alleged perpetrator’s journey is part of the tragedy.
Betsy McAlister Groves, mother of Rindge and Latin students
Letter to the Globe

Reconciling terror suspect with friend

zolan mug.jpgThe Dzhokhar I knew was a young man who spent all night looking in his car for a new phone I clumsily lost. He left work early just to help me retrace my steps...He was a captain on the Cambridge Ringe and Latin wrestling team, he was in the National Honor Society, he earned a scholarship to a four-year university. It seemed no one ever had a problem with Dzhokhar....But it seems the young man I knew is gone.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Globe co-op
Attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin with Dzhokhar

Getting fed up with the excuses

Let's be serious: Dzhokhar is not a victim like his victims. The language used in these articles makes him sound like a well-meaning addict or someone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's neither. Dzhokhar is charged with planting bombs that maimed and killed scores of people. If it was his brother's idea, Dzhokhar carried it out along with him.
Joel Breuklander
The Atlantic

Wanting to believe he was brainwashed

tiziana dearing mug.jpgI formed a story about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Friday. I convinced myself it was all his brother’s doing and influence. That he followed along and didn’t really understand what he was doing....When I told a male friend over lunch earlier this week that I felt a little motherly worry for the young man, he said, “I think to place a bomb like that, around kids, blow people up and then go back to your dorm room and back to school for two days… that’s just crazy.” I felt a chill. He’s right. How can I be worried about someone like that?
Tiziana Dearing
WBUR's Cognoscenti

Writing follow-up free verse

amanda palmer mug.jpgmay you find a way to feel empathy towards everyone.
yes, everyone.
the moment you choose to be empathetic only towards your family, only towards your friends, only towards your immediate neighbors, only the people who look like you, or think like you…
that is the moment you fail to see that we are all connected, that we are all capable of feeling pain and all – every one of us – capable of empathy.
for anyone.
Amanda Palmer, singer/songwriter

Or feeling no conflict at all

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weiss.jpegBoston.comment is an exchange for ideas about Boston and beyond, brought to you by the Boston Globe editorial page and edited by Globe columnist Joanna Weiss. We're the sponsor of's #LabDebates and the creator of the Choose Your Own Adventure mayoral game.

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