The Edmond Sun

April 18, 2013

Sometimes, the mere posing of questions is significant

Mark Bennett
CNHI News Service

Terre Haute, IND — The era seems quaint now, almost like a fable. When people left their house doors unlocked. When the sight of a police officer in a school meant it was Career Day. When TV commercials showed O.J. Simpson running through an airport. Today’s teenagers have no memory of such things. Multiple locks secure most homes, and some have security systems. Schools employ guards to protect kids and educators. And Simpson could not sprint, leap and dodge his way through an airport these days for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the security checkpoints that would slow him down.

Granted, nostalgia tends to airbrush the past. Crime, terrorism and twisted minds are not 21st-century phenomenons.

Still, as one boundary in human civility after another falls and the list of unthinkable deeds grows shorter, Americans must reassess the ways we casually move about and experience life in a free culture.

In the wake of Monday’s sad, horrific bombings at the normally festive finish line of the Boston Marathon, I recalled what a tour guide at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., told me in the summer of 2011, as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approached. The woman had lived and worked on Capitol Hill for 17 years. She could remember riding her bike across the Capitol grounds to her job on clear days. Security restrictions prevent that now.

Library visitors must remove belts before entering. Scanners probe tourists at most official buildings. Bottles of water can’t be taken into the Capitol.

The specter of what could happen, made agonizingly apparent on 9/11, forced a transition. Waits, limits and inspections were the tradeoff for a sense of safety. Washington, and the nation, had to be prepared for hateful acts we once presumed could never happen here.

Monday afternoon’s explosions in Boston claimed the young lives of three spectators, and maimed or injured more than 170 people. Bombs packed into kitchen pressure-cookers were stuffed into black bags and left on the ground, according to The Associated Press. Those killed or wounded were watching runners complete a fabled 26.2-mile race, a moment that should be a joyous, exhausting thrill of a lifetime.

Organizers of other major outdoor sporting events, which already have adopted stricter security, are re-evaluating their safety policies. As a result of the Boston bombing, changes in accessibility could come to activities that draw large, sprawling crowds such as the Kentucky Derby or the Indianapolis 500.

“I hope it doesn’t change things that much, but I think it does,” said Eric Dietz, director of the Purdue University Homeland Security Institute and former executive director of the Indiana Department Homeland Security.

“There are hundreds of events each year where we say, ‘Are we doing the right things? Are we doing enough?’” he said. “That’s an appropriate reaction.”

Over time, tightened security measures get debated and some public desire to pull back could occur. That process of reflection “is only natural,” Dietz said.

We’ll have to ask ourselves, how many restrictions are too many, or too few? When do security limits at public events become excessive and begin to erode the easy-going liberties we enjoy?

The mere posing of such questions is significant.

“As Americans, we get the choice of [deciding whether] we’re going to stay at home or go to these events,” Dietz said, “and that’s a good thing, that we get that choice.”

The knowledge of that freedom can help inspire tough, resilient Bostonians and the nation, as we keep the families of the victims in thoughts and prayers, and carry on together through the changes.



Mark Bennett is a columnist for The Tribune Star in Terre Haute, Ind. Contact him at mark.bennett@tribstar.com