Atlantic Cities

When You Attack a Crowd of People, You Also Get a Crowd of Witnesses

When You Attack a Crowd of People, You Also Get a Crowd of Witnesses
Reuters

A crowd is a vulnerable target in nearly any context. The more people, the more potential casualties of a terror attack, and the bigger the impact on the collective psyche of such an attack on everyone who gathers anywhere for street parties or book fairs or jazz festivals. But the thing about crowds is that for all the ways in which they're susceptible to harm, they're also resilient to its aftermath.

Spectators in a crowd quickly become first responders. Runners in a marathon become the best documentarians of its chaotic conclusion. And the targets of an attack instantly become its best witnesses.

This has never been more true than in the digital age, when so many people pointing cameras and cell phones at the world around them wind up inadvertently gathering the best evidence of a crime scene. Writing online for the New Yorker this afternoon, Nicholas Thompson eloquently touched on this idea:

The end of a marathon is a place for photography, and video. Someone, somewhere, will look through the pictures they snapped and see something.

And the Boston Police Department is obviously thinking the same thing. They've already asked the public to turn over any video from the explosion. This is probably weak solace today in the wake of a tragedy where we already know at least two have died, but it's comforting to remember that crowds are powerful wells of information (from which justice might arise) for the very same reasons that they're also targets of terrible intentions.

Top image: People look for updates on their mobile phones after attacks at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2013. (REUTERS)

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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