Echo from Boston bombings: Stay strong, Manchester

Published 6:07 PM EDT, Tue May 23, 2017
00:54 - Source: CNN
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Dan Kennedy: Manchester bombing conjures echoes of Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 -- and the community solidarity that emerged from it

Kennedy: The way Boston responded to bombings helped make us a kinder, more caring city. May the people of Manchester experience the same

Editor’s Note: Dan Kennedy is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University and the author of the blog Media Nation. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

As someone who has not been personally affected by a terrorist attack, I would not presume to give advice to the people of Manchester on this terrible day after.

But as a resident of the Boston area — and one among the thousands who rallied to the side of our city in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings – I have some thoughts about how a community can come together after a tragedy like this.

Dan Kennedy
Courtesy of Northeastern University
Dan Kennedy

And though Manchester, like Boston, would be infinitely better off if these acts of evil had never taken place — and as incomprehensible as it seems right now to those affected — I can attest that some good can come out of them as well.

A little more than four years ago, hundreds of thousands of people lined the 26.2-mile route of the Boston Marathon. The marathon’s day is a holiday here — it coincides with Patriots Day, a celebration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

On that perfect spring day, with families and children cheering on some 30,000 runners, two brothers who’d fallen under the sway of terrorist ideology set off bombs deliberately designed to maim and kill.

Three died: Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and 8-year-old Martin Richard, who lives on in a heartbreaking photograph of him holding a sign he’d made the year before that read “No More Hurting People.” Hundreds were injured, with many losing limbs. An MIT police officer, Sean Collier, was later murdered by the bombers as they attempted to escape capture.

The facts of the marathon attack bear a striking resemblance to what we know so far about the bombing in Manchester, where families and children were killed and injured at the end of a concert by Ariana Grande. As I write this, it appears that 22 people were killed and many more injured. Police have named 22-year-old Salman Abedi as the suspected suicide bomber. The Islamic State has taken responsibility.

What happens next depends on the resilience and unity of the people of Manchester, just as it did in Boston four years ago. In our case, the city came together in a way I had not seen in my lifetime. There was a palpable sense of caring for one another, of reaching out to our growing and vibrant Muslim community to let them know they were safe and valued, of thinking about what it means to live together in a diverse urban area.

Oddly enough, it was a sports star who crystallized that resolve. Several days after the bombings, thousands of undeterred baseball fans gathered at Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play the Kansas City Royals. The Red Sox’ biggest star, David Ortiz, an immigrant, took the microphone during the pregame ceremonies.

“This is our f**king city,” he said. “And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

Not long after Monday’s attack, Dic Donohue, a retired police sergeant who was badly wounded in the shootout at which the younger of the two marathon bombers was arrested, made the connection between Manchester and Boston explicit. Donohue took to Twitter and wrote: “Really, there are very [few] things more cowardly than attacking young girls at an Ariana Grande concert. #Manchester.”

Tragic public events can drive people apart or bring them together. In our case, I honestly believe that the way we responded to the marathon bombings helped make us a kinder, more caring city. That is Martin Richard’s true legacy.

May the people of Manchester — the community, and especially its children who have learned a new horror – experience the same kind of healing.