Last night, the city of Boston, Massachusetts and some surrounding suburbs shut down. The only people on the streets were heavily armed police and military. Most businesses closed, many hospitals closed, and people were ordered to stay in their homes. Why? Because a 19-year-old terror suspect was running from police, and maybe had guns or bombs with him.
I saw an incredible lack of concern about this, both from locals and from people watching elsewhere in the US. Sure, declaring martial law in a city is inconvenient, and does horrible damage to civil liberties, but there’s a terrorist out there! He killed people, and he could kill more people! Staying in our homes keeps us safe.
Well, no. No it doesn’t. Hiding in our homes from the dangerous terrorists doesn’t keep us safe, and it doesn’t help the police apprehend them. I know this because I’m completely making it up, just like everyone who disagrees with me.
The truth is, we can’t prove one way or the other if any lives were saved by locking down the Boston area, or by deploying an absurd amount of militarized police. If we had a time machine, we could go back in time, make the decision not to lock down Boston, and then see if the number of people murdered that day increases. But we can’t.
We can point out that the suspect was only arrested after the lockdown ended, and wasn’t even found by police. But we still can’t predict how things could have gone differently if one thing or another didn’t happen.
So, the only thing that we can definitively prove either way is that a terrorist terrorized Boston. We can say, without question, that terrorism — which aims to scare people into shutting down and disrupting society — is absolutely effective. Congratulations, Boston. The terrorists won.
Now that the dust is settled, the suspect has been captured, and people can leave their homes again, we need to never, ever let this happen again. As a New Yorker who lived through 9/11, I beg the people of Boston to ask why this was necessary. Why, for one teenager, were the streets filled with SWAT teams, armored vehicles, and soldiers? Why declare martial law throughout an entire city to find one kid? Even an armed and dangerous kid?
This is the way a police state would react to a mass murder, not a free society. What happened in Boston was completely uncalled for. But what’s scariest to me is that nobody seems to be upset about it. If we become desensitized to this sort of thing, it can only get worse. For one day, Boston was a police state. If we accept one day, then next time they’ll give us one week. If we accept one week, they’ll give us one month. This is exactly what the people who bombed the Boston Marathon want. Don’t give it to them.