The lockdown of Boston last month has fallen out of the news cycle. People have moved on with their lives, and paid little attention to what the event implies. But here is the reality: every city government in the country is ready to repeat this experience. The implications are actually momentous.
When Dzokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended, people were jubilant. “We got him! I love America.” an exuberant Michelle Fields posted in a Facebook status update.
What should we expect? After all, the Czech embassy issued a statement following the attacks at the Boston Marathon, to clarify that the two Boston bombing suspects were from Chechnya, not the Czech Republic, following waves of anti-Czech rhetoric which flooded social media.
There was congratulations all around for the Boston PD, the FBI and whoever else provided a government assist to kill a 26 year old and capture his heavily wounded 19 year old brother. “What an amazing job by law enforcement” the media gushed.
Really? To capture two guys with homemade explosives an entire major city must be shut down? Of course this is government’s dream. Stop everybody, right where you are. Don’t move. We’re the government and we’ll do the moving until this is over. Everyone else is either a suspect or a nuisance in government’s way. Only first responders may be out and about when it is this dangerous.
First public transit was shut down, then officers went door-to-door, assault rifles in hand, looking for two young men. They didn’t find them, but no doubt scared the bejeezus out of local residents. Then Governor Deval Patrick ordered businesses closed in Watertown, Newton, Waltham, Belmont, Cambridge and Boston, while area schools from Harvard University to MIT and Boston College canceled classes.
Huge companies including Athenahealth Inc., Merck & Co. and Pfizer Inc. told thousands of employees to stay home. Step aside, government has work to do and they don’t want some irrelevant commerce getting in the way of its important mission to keep us safe.
So no one was to leave their house, or in the case of Esquire writer Dan McCarthy, the apartment of the girl he made the two am booty call on. Reeking of sex, the hungover scribe had a story to write, but,
it was then when I realized I had a problem. The whole city was locked down. Taxis were suspended. Public transit shuttered. Cops were going house to house. Armored vehicles were roaming the streets. No one could go out. You weren’t even supposed to open the door unless it was for a cop.
McCarthy brazenly contravened the governor’s order and sneaked to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts to buy cigarettes and wrote the story from his lover’s apartment.
It must not have occurred to the authorities that if people were out and about, living life, going on about their business unfettered, engaging in voluntary transactions, and so on, that maybe someone would spot Mr. Tsarnaev and bring the terrorism-media circus to an end. No, everyone is a suspect that could be harboring the young man.
The public in Boston was asked to “shelter in place” for 13 hours. But evidently the risk was not so great because the lockdown was lifted prior to finding the suspect. When it was lifted, presto, just minutes later a boat owner walked outside and noticed the bloodstains on his boat parked in his backyard.
There are reports that the lockdown was not strictly enforced, but the precedent has been set. It’s easy to speculate that would-be terrorists will be inspired by two scrappy young men with backpacks and pressure cooker bombs to bring a city to a standstill, fair enough. But Sommer Mathis at the Atlantic puts her finger on the bigger question: “to lock down or not to lock down.”
This, Mathis, writes,
is now the yardstick against which the public will measure their leaders in a crisis. Boston’s unprecedented lockdown went remarkably well. Even though the suspect was only caught after the order was lifted, at a minimum there’s a case to be made that it was relatively brief, and that it was effective in its two most important goals: to protect any more members of the public from further violence at the hands of the suspect, and to protect them from any actions the police took to capture him.
There were 1,000 troops of all shapes, sizes and affiliations roaming around Boston unimpeded by civilian activity and remarkably no one was accidently shot. They didn’t find the suspect either. It took a guy looking around his backyard to do that.
Think too about just how quickly the younger Tsarnaev brother was located after the governor’s order was lifted. Did Patrick and the FBI actually have Jane Jacobs’ “eyes on the street” concept of public safety in mind when he changed his mind at the end of the day of the Friday? Or was he feeling mounting pressure to allow his constituents to return to their lives?
Deval Patrick is a rising star in the Democratic party. He, a man of the people and serial tweeter, no doubt, has his eye on bigger prizes. Jane Jacobs was the furthest thing from his mind. He may have authoritarian instincts, but he knows he has to be elected.
The great H.L. Mencken, author of the Laissez Faire Club’s next book selection, wrote decades ago, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
There was no complaint about the Boston lockdown and the adoring public actually cheered wildly when the 1,000 uniformed personnel took down the single wounded teenager. Not only have the terrorists won, the State surely has the American public right where it wants us.