Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Teen's life thrown into turmoil after the New York Post suggested he was wanted for the Boston Marathon bombings

The New York Post was wrong every which way.

For starters, they should not have called Salah Barhoum a "Bag Man."  He's 17, and still a kid. He goes to high school and he works at Subway part-time. By all accounts he's a good kid. So "Bag Boy" or "Bag Teen" or "Bag Kid" but not "Bag Man."

More importantly, they never should have done the story.

Last Thursday, this kid -- this teenage boy -- gained international notoriety for reasons that aren't fair: his face, along a picture of a friend, were plastered on the front page of the New York Post in a way that suggested they were wanted in connection with the most highly publicized crime committed on American soil since September 11, 2001.

Why was Barhoum singled out? Because he has dark skin, that's why. He was born in Morocco. And because he was at the Boston Marathon, some people thought it was a good idea to check him out.

Here's what happened: Last Wednesday, some snoopy Reddit users ID’d the pair who eventually appeared as Post cover boys as possible suspects; almost as quickly, they deemed them innocent after finding their Facebook pages and other easy-to-find online information.

Nevertheless, because of all the chatter, a friend advised Barhoum to talk to the police. “He told me you have to stand up for yourself — you can't just let people talk," Barhoum said. “Yesterday I got more than 200 phone messages!"

At 1:30 a.m. Thursday -- when high school students should be sleeping -- Barhoum turned himself in to cops. They spoke to him for about 20 minutes and let him go. Their only advice: “They said I should delete my Facebook,” Barhoum said.

Nevertheless, The Post Barhoum splashed Barhom's face on its pages and suggested he and his friend were suspects. Even after the FBI cleared the pair, Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan said, “We stand by our story.”

Barhoum was devastated. He couldn't sleep thinking about the consequences and about what people would think and say. A friend at Revere High School said a bully was picking on Barhoum, derisively calling him “an Arab” Thursday morning while they ran track together. “He really took it to heart — he's a really nice kid" said Renan Marchet, 18. "This is crazy. There's nothing bad about this kid."

Doing something as normal as walking down the street became stressful. “This guy saw me going to this track meet and he called his friend on the phone, 'Hey that's the guy on the news!' Then I ran away," Barhoum said.

“I just want everyone to know it wasn’t me. I’m just a high-school kid. It’s crazy. I love Boston. I love this country.”

And now, until the day he dies, people who Google Mr. Barhoum's name will learn of the vile accusation made against him by a major U.S. daily. All because he has dark skin, was carrying a bag, and was at the Boston Marathon.

It's enough to make me weep.