If the events in Boston elicit horror, if the left-wing response occasions disgust, there are other things that, I think, spark justifiable fear. The increasing militarization of the police in this country has provided grounds for concern for many years. Almost four years ago, Glenn Reynolds wrote an excellent piece on the subject for Popular Mechanics called SWAT Overkill: The Danger of a Paramilitary Police Force. More and more police forces, it seems, are like that wacko character in Hill Street Blues who liked nothing better than dressing up in combat gear and assaulting a local malefactor with bazookas.
The so-called “voluntary lock-down” in Watertown — a more appropriate phrase might be “martial law” — offered a chilling spectacle for anyone who cherishes his personal freedom. Remember the Fourth Amendment? That guaranteed that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Yet in Watertown, platoons of heavily armed police in combat gear went from house to house, guns drawn, banging down doors, screaming at people to come out of their own houses with their hands on their head. There were “a lot of big guns pointed at us,” said one Watertown resident. Several news outlets used the word “surreal” to describe this concentrated display of the coercive power of the state. What worries me is not that it is “surreal” but that it is, increasingly, all too real. And to what end? As Matthew Feeeney of Reason pointed out, Dzhokar Tsarnaev was caught after the lockdown was lifted and a homeowner stepped outside for a cigarette and noticed blood on his boat. The shock and awe show of intimidating police force might have made for dramatic TV, but it didn;t get the bad guy. An alert private citizen was the instrument of that coup.
Are we free citizens of a Republic? Or are we sheep to be herded at the whim of SWAT teams? Was the hunt for the bombers better served by having the civilian population — as Roger suggests, the military terminology regarding the citizen’s relationship to the civil police now seems inevitable — cower in place or by having them serve as the eyes and ears of their own communities? When George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber,” terrorized New York City over the course of 16 years in the 1940s and ’50s — planting bombs in, among other places, Grand Central Terminal, Radio City Music Hall, the New York Public Library, the subway, and movie theaters, did the isle of the Manhattoes go on total lockdown? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?
But let me backtrack from fear to disgust for a moment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has never met a freedom he didn’t wish to violate, has said that we need to change our interpretation of the Constitution in light of the the Boston terrorist attacks. I think we need to change our interpretation of the sorts of politicians we elect to safeguard our liberty. I recently wrote an introduction to a new edition of Richard Weaver’s classic Ideas Have Consequences. I began the essay with this epigraph from Weaver:
The past shows unvaryingly that when a people’s freedom disappears, it goes not with a bang, but in silence amid the comfort of being cared for. That is the dire peril in the present trend toward statism. If freedom is not found accompanied by a willingness to resist, and to reject favors, rather than to give up what is intangible but precarious, it will not long be found at all.
The horrible events in Boston last week doubtless have many lessons for us. One of those lessons concerns the “willingness to resist” that Weaver talks about here. Do we, I wonder, still have it?
Mayor Bloomberg is, of course, from Boston. And finally, speaking of Boston, over at The American Spectator, Aaron Goldstein takes me to the woodshed for having the temerity to “bash Boston” — my familial home town, as it happens:
This could have only be written by someone who doesn’t live in Boston.
As a Boston resident, I take garbage like this personally. It’s easy for Walsh to write this garbage when his community isn’t in the line of fire . . .
But what is most annoying is Walsh’s characterization of Boston “cowering in fear.” While things were tense in Watertown things were different in my neck of the woods in Jamaica Plain and no doubt in other neighborhoods. There was a steady stream of cars driving by. A neighbor told me that JP’s business district was teeming with people during the afternoon. Before Tsarnaev was caught, my roommate and I went out for dinner. We tried to live as normally as possibly as we could under the circumstances.
“Boston Strong.” I rest my case.