Mother-daughter bombing victims cross the finish line just a year after the attacks

The Boston Marathon Bombings; What is Justice?

On April 15, 2013, I was sitting at mile ten of the Boston Marathon in Natick, watching the runners go by admiring their strength and endurance just as I have done every year. When the runners started to decrease, so did the crowd. Most of my friends went our separate ways home and watched as the cleanup team started clearing the roads of its empty water cups and orange peels. When I walked into my house around 3:00 p.m I entered an environment of fear, my mom, dad, and sister were all swarming the TV. The channel was set on the news and all that was pictured was huge clouds of smoke and terror, I shrieked, “What is going on?”

The horrifying explosion that occurred at the finish line on Boylston Street

We live in a world that screams “justice” every time a crime occurs, but what really is justice? Justice is viewed differently to every person involved in the situation at hand, whether they be the perpetrator, the victim, the surrounding community or the person watching the issue on his/her TV screen. In the book Repair, Elizabeth Spelman compares and contrasts the differences between two types of Justice, restorative, and retributive. Nowadays, the justice system focuses on retributive justice and doesn’t take into account the aftermath of the situation, even after “justice is served”, and Spelman makes that very clear in her work.

“So, then, the restorative justice movement sees itself as responding to the brute fact that the criminal justice system and the “trail ’em, nail ’em, and jail ‘em” process by which it identifies crimes and brings perpetrators to ‘justice’ in a state of shambles. This is not a judgment with which restorative justice enthusiasts will find much disagreement…(Spelman 58).”

Here Spelman puts the word justice in quotes, which insists that she is using the term very lightly. It follows the overall theme of the chapter which is restorative justice vs. retributive justice. I believe that criminal systems need to take a more careful consideration of using the restorative justice system because it focuses more on who was harmed, how they have been harmed and how the victims, community, and perpetrator, can be fixed. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing (graphic pictures of the bombing) that occurred in 2013, I believe more should have been done in mending the hearts of the victim’s friends and families and the community that surrounded Boston. Yes, they did catch the perpetrator, Tsarnaev, but does that really mean that the victims felt better? The people of Boston spent many weeks after that marathon grieving the loss of community members and questioning why this happened. This act of terror took the lives of Boston University Student- Lu Lingzi, a Medford resident- Krystle Cambell, an MIT police officer- Sean Collier and 8-year-old Martin Richard. This CBC slideshow shows pictures and biographies of the four victims who’s lives were taken that day.

Boston Marathon Bombing Victims from Left to Right: Martin Richard, Krystle Cambell, Lu Lingzi & Sean Collier

Some people attended memorials, grieving ceremonies or even drowned themselves in work in order to try to forget about what had just happened. But the was topic inevitable, it had stained the past and present marathon runners, the families of victims, the people of Boston and the country. Living 20 minutes outside of Boston myself, I was left with these questions as well. I think something effective towards healing the people could have been done about the confusion that was left on hearts of the surrounding communities.

Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev is pictured on the front of Rolling Stone Magazine in July 2013. Rolling Stone Magazine noticed he was of the age of most readers of the magazine and they thought it was important to examine the complexities of the issue.

Nearly two years later the perpetrator, Tsarnaev, mutters his apology, “I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, and the damage that I’ve done”(Marsh, When I heard these words I felt no remorse. Therefore, some people might say the only way the perpetrator would get what he deserved was through the death penalty, but how would this help repair the community? It would alleviate any worries of him enacting a terrorist attack again but it wouldn’t heal the wounds of the people of Boston. In May of 2015, Tsarnaev was sentenced to death and The Mayor of Boston, Martin Walsh expressed his condolences by saying, “hope [that] this verdict provides a small amount of closure to everyone affected by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing…”(Marsh, That’s exactly what it did, it brought a small amount of closure. This small amount of closure wasn’t going to help the victims pay for their medical treatments, it wasn’t going to help fix the damage done to the buildings and streets of Boston and it certainly wasn’t going to help mend the hearts of the families who lost loved ones to this terrible act. Justice was served, but restorative justice was not. Spelman also brings up the death penalty in a form of restorative justice.

“…in a recent study carried out by lawyers and criminologists from Columbia University, the system of capital punishment in the United States was pronounced “broken”, so reeking of incompetence and unfairness that ‘the time is ripe for fixing the death penalty. Or, if it can’t be fixed, to end it.’ But the concern of restorative justice proponents is not that often associated with the political right- that stricter law enforcement is necessary…” (Spelman 58).

The death penalty will be a continued debate, especially in the cause of the Boston Marathon Bombing which is talked about here. Therefore, society has been so caught up with “political correctness”, I believe we have forgotten about the feelings and emotions that can be fixed with restorative justice. I don’t believe retributive justice should be erased altogether, but it can be meshed with restorative to repair all. This is something I believe Spelman did not touch upon in her book. Boston was in ruins and no apology or retribution could fix this city. On the other hand, maybe this city was scared to be fixed. Spelman says, “Repair is hedged round with anxiety that the very process by which something is repaired will destroy…”(Spelman 64). If Boston repaired itself from the terror attack, that could release a sense of vulnerability, that once Boston is feeling strong again it will fall victim again.

People gather at Boston Commons to grieve and pray for the dead and injured

One community member, Reverend John de Vries, took his own actions of restorative justice. John has been running the Boston Marathon every year since 1995, but he missed the race in 2013 because he was in Japan the year and it happened to be the same year that the bomb went off. John claimed that the bombing took away the innocence of the annual event, so in 2014 he ran the marathon on behalf of the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, an organization in which John was a part of. Specifically, he was running to raise awareness for the case of restorative justice and the process of reconciliation it brings to the victims of crime and perpetrators. The way John faced the Boston Bombing is a quintessential example of how restorative justice can be balanced with retributive to help heal the community. He understood what happened in the events of April 15, 2013, and he acted upon them. He didn’t take advantage of time and sit on his couch and wait for the guilty or no guilty verdict from the prosecutor. This is an aspect that is extremely important to repairing with restorative justice, it must take place soon after the act. Elizabeth Spelmen, when talking about restorative justice, uses the example of the Holocaust, but I believe the Holocaust is something that once could have been handled with restorative justice ways but is too late now. I think as a city, Boston needs to face this sense of vulnerability head on, just like John did before it becomes a distant scar. The way reparative justice works can mean something different according to what role you played in the Boston Bombing, whether it was a runner, viewer or just a community member. Therefore, this is why it is important to not just settle with the retributive justice due to the fact that we know Tsarnaev was found guilty.
So overall, death penalties in cases like the Boston Bombing are thought to bring justice, but just in a retributive way. It completely abandons the repair that emotions of the community and victims really need. Reverend John de Vries believed running the marathon the year after the terror would bring a sense of awareness to the restorative justice that was needed to be done in that terrifying situation. When justice is needed, I hope others look to restorative justice to gain a balance between retributive justice in order to restore communities. Hopefully, the word justice will soon be known as a statement and not a question. I believe that the word justice needs to be redefined in the American society in order to heal all aspects of the humans who have unfortunately been caught up in these terrifying acts.

A collage I made a month after the Boston Bombings in a graphic design class my sophomore year of high school.

Please consider donating to any of the victims who were severly injured in the attacks of the Boston Marathon Bombing:


I would like to begin my first thanking my writing group- Daniel, Erica, Julia and Mike for their help with my essay. They pushed me to further the ideas of my essays, always contributed with possible examples, and helped find the missing pieces of my work. I would also like to thank Professor Harris for his instructions on my paper and the feedback he has given me. His offering has pushed me to think outside the box for my essay. The structure of his class has helped the growth of my pieces as well as myself growth as a writer. Next, Frank, my TA always provided his time to reading my essay and giving me advice. I’m also thankful for the help from my entire Frank writing group for their help with the final editing of the structure of my essay. I would also like to thank my mom, for taking time out of her busy day to read my piece and provide me with constructive criticism. Without the assistance from all these people, I would not be the writer I am today!


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Berastaín, Pierre R. “Restorative Justice: Re-storying What Happened in Boston.” The Huffington Post., 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <>.

“Boston Marathon Bomber Victims.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016. <>.

“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016. <>.

Goldman, Adam. “Tsarnaev Found Guilty on All Counts in Boston Marathon Bombing Trial.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 8 Apr. 2015. Web. 04 Dec. 2016. <>.

Marsh, Jason. “Does Death Penalty Bring Closure?” CNN. Cable News Network, 20 May 2015. Web. 11 Oct. 2016. <>.

Meehan, Chris. “Running the Boston Marathon for Restorative Justice.” Christian Reformed Church. N.p., 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <>.

Newton-Small, Jay. “Boston After the Bombs: The Struggle to Return to Normal |” Time. Time, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016. <>.

Spelman, Elizabeth V. Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World. Boston: Beacon, 2002. Print.

Thomas, Emily. “Boston Marathon Bombing (GRAPHIC PHOTOS).” The Huffington Post., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016. <>.

Watson, Navar. “‘Restorative Justice,’ Not Death Penalty, Urged for Accused Bomber.” National Catholic Reporter. Cathlioc News Service, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <>.

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