Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

At 19 a typical American male might be witnessed yelling at the screen of a video game, washing the old car he’s quite proud of, playing sports, falling asleep in class at a college somewhere, looking for girls to …, and working hard at a fast food restaurant. Chechen born American naturalized citizen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may have done all those things, but he also allegedly took part in helping his older brother carry out an act of terrorism in the fatal bombing of strangers at the Boston Marathon a week ago. Dzhokhar has been described as a quiet, kind, and friendly, boxing enthusiast. His elder brother described as more outgoing, extrovert, friendly.

As I was watched and listened to too much news yesterday, reporters and “experts” gave their take on what could possibly cause an apparently “good kid” by all accounts go bad, I began to feel tired and weary. All the speculation, the waiting, the talk game, the hyper-news spectacle, it was too much. The TV kept flashing the young man’s face, he looked innocent… whatever innocent looks like. His brother, 26 year old Tamerlan Tsarnaev was dead by now, leaving his younger sibling to fend for himself. Whose idea was it to bomb, and why?

After a day of intense waiting behind barricades, cheers suddenly broke from the crowd which signaled that Dzhokhar had been captured. He had been hiding in the stern of a boat parked in the back of someone’s home. The kid was in bad condition, bleeding, apparently shot, and taken to a hospital for care. Authorities want to assure he stays alive. They want answers. We all want answers. What would make seemingly average and content young people (so they say) do something so terrible to people who had not hurt them? There are always clues.

It’s all speculation at this point until and if the surviving young man decides to speak. But their father who resides in his home country of Chechnya, said via phone that his sons are not responsible for this act, his sons are good boys and not involved in violence or terrorism of any sort. He said they liked living in America and were happy there. He insisted the American authorities must be mistaken in accusing his sons of this heinous act.  Their uncle, on the other hand, living in the U.S. said he’s ashamed of what the boys had done, calling them “losers” saying “they had not been able to settle themselves thereby hating everyone who did.”

And of course there are the words from the elder brother who is noted as having said he didn’t have one American friend, he just didn’t understand them (Americans).

I don’t know these young men and I don’t know the answers. Perhaps all that will unfold for us over the next few days and weeks. However, after twenty years of youth ministry work and training, one thing I think I know by now and that is, a young person, particularly a 19 year old male who may feel displaced, with a fragile sense, a distorted sense, or no sense of communal belonging, nurture and support, all of which helps create and seal a sense of identity and purpose… in the worst case scenario, even a “good kid” is capable of almost anything.


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About Calenthia Dowdy

Calenthia Dowdy (PhD, American University) is a cultural anthropologist and youth ministry educator who focuses on urban youth and culture in the U.S. and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alongside teaching, speaking and writing on youth, cities, race, gender, and faith, she serves as the director of faith initiatives at a comprehensive community health center that specializes in HIV/AIDS care