Forced lockdown of a city. Militarized police riding tanks in the streets. Door-to-door armed searches without warrant. Families thrown out of their homes at gunpoint to be searched without probable cause. Businesses forced to close. Transport shut down.
These were not the scenes from a military coup in a far off banana republic, but rather the scenes just over a week ago in Boston as the United States got a taste of martial law. The ostensible reason for the military-style takeover of parts of Boston was that the accused perpetrator of a horrific crime was on the loose. The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city. This unprecedented move should frighten us as much or more than the attack itself.
What has been sadly forgotten in all the celebration of the capture of one suspect and the killing of his older brother is that the police state tactics in Boston did absolutely nothing to catch them. While the media crowed that the apprehension of the suspects was a triumph of the new surveillance state – and, predictably, many talking heads and Members of Congress called for even more government cameras pointed at the rest of us – the fact is none of this caught the suspect. Actually, it very nearly gave the suspect a chance to make a getaway.
The "shelter in place" command imposed by the governor of Massachusetts was lifted before the suspect was caught. Only after this police state move was ended did the owner of the boat go outside to check on his property, and in so doing discover the suspect.
No, the suspect was not discovered by the paramilitary troops terrorizing the public. He was discovered by a private citizen, who then placed a call to the police. And he was identified not by government surveillance cameras, but by private citizens who willingly shared their photographs with the police.
As journalist Tim Carney wrote last week:
"Law enforcement in Boston used cameras to ID the bombing suspects, but not police cameras. Instead, authorities asked the public to submit all photos and videos of the finish-line area to the FBI, just in case any of them had relevant images. The surveillance videos the FBI posted online of the suspects came from private businesses that use surveillance to punish and deter crime on their property."
Sadly, we have been conditioned to believe that the job of the government is to keep us safe, but in reality the job of the government is to protect our liberties. Once the government decides that its role is to keep us safe, whether economically or physically, they can only do so by taking away our liberties. That is what happened in Boston.
Three people were killed in Boston and that is tragic. But what of the fact that over 40 persons are killed in the United States each day, and sometimes ten persons can be killed in one city on any given weekend? These cities are not locked-down by paramilitary police riding in tanks and pointing automatic weapons at innocent citizens.
This is unprecedented and is very dangerous. We must educate ourselves and others about our precious civil liberties to ensure that we never accept demands that we give up our Constitution so that the government can pretend to protect us.