Misplaced priorities at the Boston Police Dept.

Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn

Last October the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU revealed that the Boston Police Department had been spying on left-wing activists such as the late Howard Zinn.

The police were working with the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), a so-called fusion center through which the authorities could coordinate with the FBI and other agencies to find out who might be plotting a terrorist attack. Zinn, a peace activist, an elderly professor and World War II hero, was clearly someone to keep a close eye on.

Of course, we now know that at the same time the police were wasting their resources on Zinn, they were ignorant of what the FBI knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Among those putting two and two together in the last few weeks were Michael Isikoff of NBC News;  Boston journalist Chris Faraone, who produced this for DigBoston; and Jamaica Plain Gazette editor John Ruch, who wrote an analysis.

Although it would be a stretch well beyond the facts to suggest that if the police hadn’t been watching left-wing and Occupy protesters they might have caught Tsarnaev, the BPD was certainly looking in all the wrong places. The police did a good and courageous job of reacting to the Boston Marathon bombings. The issue is how they spent their time and resources in trying to prevent a terrorist attack.

Spying on the antiwar left makes no more sense today than it did in the 1960s and ’70s. Police Commissioner Ed Davis needs to take a break from giving commencement speeches in order to answer a few questions.

And while I’m on the subject of questionable law-enforcement practices, I sure hope we find out what actually happened in Florida last week. Don’t you?

Howard Zinn, antiwar stalwart

Friend of Media Nation Clif Garboden sent along this photo of the late Howard Zinn, debating the Vietnam War in Boston University’s Hayden Hall in 1967. The photo is Garboden’s copyrighted work, and is republished here by permission.

Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

Howard Zinn

Historian, social critic and war hero Howard Zinn has died at 87. The Boston Globe weighs in with a well-wrought obituary. Wikipedia’s thorough profile of Zinn is worth reading as well.

Zinn was a dedicated man of the left, and his take on President Obama, written just a few weeks ago for the Nation, is characteristic. It begins:

I’ve been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama’s rhetoric; I don’t see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.

As far as disappointments, I wasn’t terribly disappointed because I didn’t expect that much.

Zinn was best known for his book “A People’s History of the United States.” I came to it rather late — less than 10 years ago. Frankly, a lot of it struck me as the sort of cant that I got over in my teens – although I was also struck by how deeply Zinn loved his country.

“A People’s History” is well-written and meticulously well-documented, and I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in an alternative perspective on American history.

Photo via WikiMedia Commons.