The number of tweets expressing fear dra­mat­i­cally increased in the moments fol­lowing the Boston Marathon bombing, according to David Lazer, an asso­ciate pro­fessor and authority on social networks.

“Fear spread in Boston as people began grap­pling with what was hap­pening,” Lazer explained, noting the swift­ness with which news spreads on social media. “Oh god,” one person tweeted after viewing a photo of the crime scene. “I just heard it out­side my window. Is everyone alright?”

Lazer was one of six North­eastern fac­ulty mem­bers who reflected on the twin bomb­ings at the fourth event in a year­long edu­ca­tional series on civic sus­tain­ability. North­eastern stu­dents, for their part, have banded together to lend their time, exper­tise, and com­pas­sion to the relief effort. The Office of Campus activ­i­ties has cre­ated a web­site high­lighting some of the ways stu­dents have helped, from donating blood to raising money for vic­tims of the attack, which killed three and injured more than 260.

The civic sus­tain­ability series—Con­flict. Civility. Respect. Peace. North­eastern Reflects—is orga­nized by the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties and the Office of Stu­dent Affairs and is hosted by Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence Michael Dukakis in con­junc­tion with the Pres­i­den­tial Council on Inclu­sion and Diver­sity. Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun announced the for­ma­tion of the council in Feb­ruary.

Last Wednesday’s event, “The Boston Marathon Bombing and Its After­math,” chal­lenged North­eastern fac­ulty mem­bers to make sense of the issues raised by the bombing and the search for the per­pe­tra­tors, with a par­tic­ular focus on the moti­va­tion for crime, the impor­tance of resilience, and the role of social media.

The fac­ulty pan­elists com­prised Aziza Ahmed, assis­tant pro­fessor of law; Stephen Flynn, pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and founding co-​​director of the George J. Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity; Lazer, asso­ciate pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and com­puter and infor­ma­tion sci­ence; Jack McDe­vitt, director of the Insti­tute on Race and Jus­tice; Daniel Medwed, pro­fessor of law; and Gor­dana Rabren­ovic, asso­ciate pro­fessor of soci­ology and director of the Brud­nick Center on Vio­lence and Con­flict. Ralph Martin II, senior vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral counsel, mod­er­ated the discussion.

Jeremy Paul, dean of the School of Law, and Uta Poiger, co-​​​​chair of the pres­i­den­tial council and interim dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, wel­comed stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff to the event, which was held in West Vil­lage F.

“Jus­tice, bravery, and integrity thrive in envi­ron­ments in which there is under­standing,” Paul said in framing the impor­tance of the forth­coming discussion.

Flynn, whose exper­tise lies in com­mu­nity resilience, praised the bravery of first respon­ders, many of whom applied tourni­quets to the wounded and car­ried vic­tims to makeshift triage cen­ters. “The dif­fer­ence between life and death,” he explained, “is bystanders and local public safety officials.”

“We must cel­e­brate resilience when we see it,” Flynn added, noting the innu­mer­able news sto­ries in which people recounted live-​​saving heroism. “It’s impor­tant to tell those sto­ries about how we dealt with it.”

According to Ahmed, some media out­lets rely on ethnic and reli­gious stereo­types in order to ratio­nalize the moti­va­tion behind crim­inal acts.

“TV shows like 24 por­tray Mus­lims as secret rad­i­cals, which gets repro­duced as facts by news agen­cies,” said Ahmed, who writes about the changing global land­scape of Muslim minori­ties after 9/​11.

She pointed to a Supreme Court deci­sion against a Pakistani-​​American who was arrested in November 2001 on charges of con­spiracy to defraud the United States as an example of uti­lizing “fear to dis­tract us from the legal ques­tions about how to end violence.”

At issue in the case, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, was whether fed­eral offi­cials “des­ig­nated Iqbal a person ‘of high interest’ on account of his race, reli­gion, or national origin,” according to court doc­u­ments. Said Ahmed: “After an act of vio­lence, we often desire to assign blame and ask for vig­i­lance for the sake of justice.”

Medwed, a leading scholar in the field of wrongful con­vic­tions, believes true jus­tice in crim­inal cases hinges on the proper use of the Con­sti­tu­tion, which, he said, is designed to “pro­tect the most evil among us.”

“If we trample on the Con­sti­tu­tion,” he said, “then what could happen next?”

Medwed said the trial of marathon bombing sus­pect Dzhokhar Tsar­naev, who has been for­mally charged with using a weapon of mass destruc­tion, will most likely take place out­side of Mass­a­chu­setts. “If there is no plea bar­gain, there is going to be a major battle over a change of venue,” he explained. “Here we have a person who we believe was behind these ter­rible acts and it may be dif­fi­cult for him to get a fair trial in Boston.”

Fol­lowing the panel dis­cus­sion, fac­ulty fielded ques­tions posed by audi­ence mem­bers. One stu­dent asked Flynn how tragedies like the marathon bombing could be prevented.

In his response, Flynn com­pared acts of ter­rorism to acts of nature, such as hur­ri­canes and tsunamis. “The reality is that this is a fact of modern life,” he said. “We’re just not going to get down to zero.”

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