As an ambulance took the seriously wounded Dzhokar Tsarnaev to a hospital, people in Watertown, Massachusetts, realized that the police hunt was over and they cheered. And cheered. Some in the crowd began to chant, “USA! USA! USA!” as though an American team had won an Olympic competition.
To the relieved residents who finally could go back to something normal after effectively living a day under martial law, Gov. Deval Patrick issuing a “shelter-in-place” order, the police had been heroes, protecting them from two mad bombers who already had struck the venerable Boston Marathon and were promising more mayhem and murder:
“Every time a police car passed by, the cheering became louder, and a sense of respect and admiration was felt through the crowd,” said Montana Fredrick, who joined a sea of other Northeastern University students in greeting the officers.
After authorities had gained enough knowledge of who the bombers might be, having scanned the thousands of photos and videos of the blast scenes, the next step was finding the two brothers. In retrospect, one should not be surprised that the two were quickly identified.
Like all big road race events, photos of the finish line and the surrounding area are continuously taken. One reason goes back to 1980, when aninterloper named Rosie Ruiz snuck into the race a half-mile from the finish and claimed victory. She received the laurel wreath in a public ceremony, but later that week race officials had enough evidence to find Ruiz was a fraud, and French Canadian Jaqueline Gareau was named the women’s champion.
Until the bombing, the Ruiz affair was the worst thing associated with the nation’s oldest and best-known marathon but Ruiz’s fraud led to race organizers setting up an extensive video system to ensure that nothing like that ever happened again, with the finish area being the most extensively recorded. And it is not just the professionals doing the video work. Organizations and individuals have literally hundreds of video cameras and video recording devices working throughout the race, and especially at the finish, and it was inevitable that whoever was responsible would have been caught on camera, and they were.
By Thursday night, police knew the suspects and in a firefight in Watertown, the older brother, Tamerlan, was killed. Dzhokar escaped and the manhunt became even more intense.
Until that time, the investigation really was about simple police work, a meticulous effort in which both police and ordinary citizens, including at least one seriously injured in the blast, were able to piece things together. (Unfortunately, the New York Post, which distinguished itself by headlining error after egregious error, committed a journalistic outrage by showing a photo of two local North African high school runners and all-but-claiming they were the bombers.)
When Dzhokar escaped, a police era passed with him and things fell into an abyss from there. First, hundreds of paramilitary police occupied the streets of Boston and surrounding areas, showing off their military equipment and looking every bit the role of the conquering army that one might expect to see in a bad movie.
For all the show of force, this had nothing to do either with finding and apprehending the suspect or “protecting” the citizens of Boston. Instead, they acted as government enforcers of Patrick’s “shelter in place” order for the city and surrounding areas, an order that effectively imposed martial law. These paramilitary “protectors” were not there to apprehend a dangerous suspect; they were there to intimidate the local citizenry into staying in their houses and apartments even though their going to work would have had no interference whatsoever with the police search.
The government and police were willing to shut down parts of the economy like the universities, software, biotech, and manufacturing…but when asked to do an actual risk to reward calculation where a small part of the costs landed on their own shoulders, they had no problem weighing one versus the other and then telling the donut servers “yeah, come to work – no one’s going to get shot.”
It got worse, and I would say hilariously worse because the show-of-force tactics, martial law, and the eternal press conferences featuring Patrick and other Very Serious People actually ensured it would take longer to find Dzhokar. Police, in typical bureaucratic fashion, had created a perimeter in Watertown and they searched everywhere within that area.
If one looks at the picture of the boat in which Dzhokar was found hiding, one can see it is just behind the house, not even 20 feet away. However, while the house fell within the perimeter, the boat did not, and it never occurred to the police to look at what in retrospect would have been an excellent hiding place. The bureaucratic paramilitary cops, however, did not even think of walking an inch past their perimeter line.
It took the owner of the boat who noticed something amiss – after he was permitted to leave his house when Patrick lifted his “shelter” order – to find the wounded Tsarnaev, and police flushed him out about a half-hour later. In other words, despite the show of force and despite the presence of paramilitary cops, armored trucks, and assault rifles, the suspect was captured because a mere mundane was willing to look 20 feet beyond where the cops would go.
Lest anyone think the police were “protecting” anyone, the following video demonstrates just how brutal the police were to ordinary citizens who had committed the “crime” of living within the perimeter. As I watched it, I was reminded of a film I watched last week, “The Hiding Place.” The movie included scenes of Nazi officials and soldiers herding Jews out of their homes and up the streets. And, yes, the scene in Watertown in many ways matched what I saw in the movie, complete with the barking police dog snarling at people forced to run away from their homes with their hands on their heads.
(The police were looking for Tsarnaev, but everyone was a criminal as far as the cops were concerned. Contrary to what the media has been spinning, the police were not protecting anyone, nor did they intend to protect anyone except themselves. They were making a statement to anyone who was in Boston that the police were the absolute rulers and anyone who did not obey a police command completely was putting his or her life in peril.)
The sad thing was that most people in Boston not only put up with this, but actually seemed to believe that the show of force and the brutality of the police were for the good of Bostonians. Notes Anthony Gregory:
One doesn’t have to be any sort of radical to be appalled that thousands of police, working with federal troops and agents, would “lockdown” an entire city – shutting down public transit, closing virtually all businesses, intimidating anyone from leaving their home, and going door to door with SWAT teams in pursuit of one suspect. The power of the police to “lockdown” a city is an authoritarian, borderline totalitarian power. A “lockdown” is prison terminology for forcing all prisoners into their cells. They did not do this to pursue the DC sniper, or to go after the Kennedy assassin, and I fear the precedent. It is eerie that this happened in an American city, and it should be eerie to you, no matter where you fall on the spectrum. You can tell me that most people in Boston were happy to go along with it, but that’s not really the point, either. If two criminals can bring an entire city to its knees like this with the help of the state, then terrorism truly is a winning strategy.
Only a few decades ago, Massachusetts Democrats such as former Governor Michael Dukakkis (the Democratic nominee for president in 1988) believed in civil liberties and were outspoken against police state tactics. It is clear that those days are gone, as Democrats are as enthusiastic as typical conservative Republicans for paramilitary police, snarling police dogs, and all of the boy toys that accompany the modern “warrior cop.”
It gets worse. As I recently noted in an LRC blog post, Progressive Massachusetts does not have capital punishment, but Democratic officials there and elsewhere want Tsarnaev tried under federal law, which does have the death penalty. Such things give cynicism a bad name.
So, we have martial law imposed in a situation that clearly did not call for such drastic action, paramilitary police goons roughing up innocent people in a neighborhood, and police incompetence keeping authorities from finding an allegedly dangerous suspect. And out of all this comes effusive praise for the police and their police state tactics.
One can argue that the music began in Boston almost 240 years ago as American colonials rebelled against what they saw as British police state actions. Now we can say that the music has stopped in that same city, and since the authorities have imposed martial law and received massive public praise for their actions, Americans can expect