Some are freaking out over Rolling Stone’s decision to put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover. Dr. Hook notwithstanding, those critics need to calm the fuck down and get a grip on the very real reality that our belief that our prejudices and misconceptions somehow allow us to spot a mass murderer by the way they look is just flat out wrong. Matt Taibbi offers his thoughtful defense of the cover and correctly reminds us that Rolling Stone was not the first to use this particular photo of a killer.
I remember a few months ago, after Adam Lanza murdered 26 people, being taken aback by a family member saying that Lanza “looked scary.” My response was to ask if my sibling thought that one of my nephews, about Tsarnaev’s age, looked scary. We quickly changed the subject.
This is a discussion that we as a nation need to have. Those who would do us harm do not have the mark of Cain (or the Beast) conveniently tattooed on their foreheads. How many times do we need to hear that neighbors thought a criminal was well mannered and quiet? We can’t yet predict or diagnose a mental condition that guarantees a psychopath will turn violent.
One response is to hide in our homes (I still can’t believe that the police in Boston were able to use our irrational fears to lock down an entire city to search for one killer), the other is to realize that life is not certain or safe and that our best response is to engage our society with our eyes wide open.