How to respond to morons.
It’s a question they are wrestling with in Lunenburg, a town 50 miles northwest of Boston.
Somebody scrawled the N word on a house occupied by a high school football player who has a white mother and a black father. And while the word is reprehensible and the mind-set behind it worse, it raises questions about how to react.
In Lunenburg — in a commendable, communal act — residents responded with a vigil denouncing the hatred behind the word and whoever scrawled it. But on Monday, after it emerged that more than one high school football player in Lunenburg uses the N word, town officials canceled the rest of the football season, which raises the question: Does that repudiate morons or tell them they matter?
Closer to Boston, what to do with Bill Maher, a very smart, talented guy who gets paid millions to say outrageous things? He recently suggested on his HBO show that Bostonians need more perspective on what happened at the Marathon. He belittled the Red Sox players who commemorated the suffering that day during their victory parade. He compared the three deaths and dozens of catastrophic injuries at the Marathon to everyday car accidents and closed his deeply thought-out analysis by observing, “Your city was not leveled by Godzilla.”
It was left to one of his guests, Anthony Weiner, who had to resign from Congress for sexting, to call Maher out. When Anthony Weiner accuses you of having bad taste, you’ve got a problem.
I’m assuming that on the next “Real Time,” Maher will tell the people in Illinois and Indiana to get over those tornadoes that leveled their towns because, hey, that happens all the time in the Midwest.
Maher can deconstruct hubris and hypocrisy as well as anyone. But what does it gain him to make fun of people’s suffering? Then again, what does it gain us to get hot and bothered by what he says? The furor over the Rolling Stone cover shot of a doe-eyed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev merely helped sell more copies.
After hearing Maher’s remarks, Dan Linskey, superintendent in chief of the Boston Police Department, debated whether to respond before tweeting a missing persons alert about Maher because, as he told me, “somewhere a village had lost its idiot.”
Linskey thinks the people in Lunenburg did the right thing. “You have to say something,” he said.
Tracy Munro feels the same way. She was at the finish line when the bombs went off, and like others she was terrified and disoriented and initially ran away. But she doubled back, because she had passed a little girl lying on the sidewalk. She saw the girl was missing a leg. She bent down and grabbed the girl’s hand and squeezed. She used her other hand to brush the side of the girl’s face, gently, comforting her.
When she asked for her name, the girl said, “Jane.”
Jane Richard’s 8-year-old brother Martin was lying nearby, dead. Their mother was badly injured. It was, for the Richard family and for people like Tracy Munro who tried to comfort them, more than what Bill Maher dismissed as “a bad day.”
“Bill Maher wasn’t standing where I was,” Tracy Munro said. “There are plenty of things to poke fun at. What he said was heartless, thoughtless, and unnecessary.”
Martin Richard’s body couldn’t be moved for many hours, so a group of Boston police officers took turns, standing next to him so he wouldn’t be alone. That small gesture, they hoped, would provide some comfort to Martin’s family. And it did.
When he was in Boston for the Marines Corps birthday last week, the Marine commandant, General James Amos, heard about Boston police Captain Frank Armstrong and patrolmen Frannie Deary, Paul Downey, Bill Zubrin, and Jimmy Scopa standing guard next to Martin’s body.
Today, in New York, Amos will recognize them on the deck of the USS Intrepid, which is 2,800 miles and a world away from where Bill Maher does his TV show.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.