Whenever a terrorist attack takes place, people panic. They start to think about the possibilities of who could have done it, where else it could happen, if anything else is in the works, how they’re going to combat it, when they’re going to catch whoever did it, etc. People in government promised that those responsible would be found and brought to justice. And that has happened, but at what cost?
Yes, the two terrorists were found, but did it justify a categorical house-to-house search without warrant to find the suspected terrorists? Most people would say yes; we’re not so sure. Not every slope is slippery, but this does set dangerous precendent. If the government can declare a “state of emergency” unilaterally and then go through entire neighborhoods with no regard for civil liberties and personal freedoms, is that not a danger to us all? Well…maybe. I think we can agree on a “just this once principle”, that in this one, genuinely extraordinary situation we can allow the government to get away with this, but if it happens again then we must protest.
Then there are the slower, less visible consequences that will begin to unfold, something most people, even if they notice, probably (and wrongfully) won’t be too concerned about. The bombing happened right under the nose of law enforcement during one of the most public and widely known events in the world. And it happened despite a decade of PATRIOT Act surveillance and warrantless wiretapping. If all the President’s men empowered by the PATRIOT Act couldn’t catch two losers building bombs in their basement, then shouldn’t we just get rid of the damned thing? That’s my impulse, yet undoubtedly the government will take the opposite view: oh no no no, we need more PATRIOT Act surveillance.
The spectacle we saw, when both of the suspects were being chased through the streets of Watertown, MA and the surrounding area, should be quite disturbing. The amount of police that the local, state, and federal governments could mobilize in such a short period is a little scary to someone like me who emphasizes personal liberty. Some may find it reassuring, they might feel “safe” because the government has all this might to protect them from that big, bad world that lurks just outside our doorsteps. But to me, I can’t help but think “What if all that might was after me, and all I’d done was read a book the government called ‘dangerous’?”
If an officer had approached someone’s home during the search and the officer was denied permission to enter the homeowner’s house to search it for the terrorist, the homeowner would instantly become a target for accusation and might even be pegged as an accomplice. It would carry all manner of repercussions, all because they didn’t want their rights to be infringed upon and knew that no terrorist was in their home. Searches of homes and private property cannot be done solely on the basis that there might be a criminal in the general area of where the house is located. The fact that the City of Boston and its suburbs were being searched like this and could be completely shut down, essentially under undeclared martial law, for an entire day is very scary indeed. The precedent set by the incident in Boston is a scary one, and we cannot let the fact that they were looking for a terrorist detract from the infringement upon personal liberty.
-CB & SL