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. (And we should also keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of the massive police response did not aid in capturing the suspect—it ultimately turned on that old fashioned breakthrough—a normal denizen calling the authorities with information.)
If America suffered a bombing like the Boston Marathon atrocity every week, America would feel like a very different place, although the homicide rate would only be about one percent higher. I acknowledge the maiming was on a mass scale, but this kind of attack has to be taken in perspective in terms of how much of a risk it poses to the average American, because we have to consider what response the people would tolerate in the event of more frequent or far worse attacks.
If the people of the United States will cheer seeing a whole city shut down, even for just a day, in the event of a horrific attack that nevertheless had 1/1000th the fatalities and about two percent of the casualties of 9/11, what would Americans support in light of another 9/11? What about a dirty bomb going off in a major city? The question has nothing to do with what government wants to do, or whether police statism is a goal or simply a consequence. What will the *people* want and expect the government to do if tens of thousands were chaotically killed and injured in a terrible terror attack, or if many small attacks hit the country? I fear they would welcome the abolition of liberty altogether, given their reaction to last night. That, of course, is altogether the wrong response. If we cannot look at the police reaction last night very critically, there is really no hope for even moderate protection of our civil liberties today.