When Theater is Security

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you should have some idea of what’s been going on in Boston – that there was a bombing at the Boston Marathon that killed three and wounded/maimed many others; that the bombers went on a rampage through the city after their photos were released by the FBI; that a large portion of Boston was shut down for a day to search for the terrorists; and that one was killed and the other caught.

Over the course of the last day, Bostonians rallied together, almost universally supporting the police’s decision to lockdown much of the city while searching for the remaining terrorist. He was ultimately caught without any further loss of life, and so, 24 hours later, suddenly the knives are coming out. tl;dr – the lockdown was unnecessary, just a bunch of security theater which cost a lot of money, trouble, and could have been solved eventually using regular police work.

The Bostonians I know experienced this very differently. I experienced this very differently*. Boston is a big city, with big city problems. Even in the good times there’s plenty of crime to go around – but this was different. This was a personal insult. In one of the blogs linked to above, the author talks about how the number of people killed was the same as die in Detroit every day. Think about that. Is that an argument for or against? Where would you rather live?

Boston is probably the only major city that if you fuck with them, they will shut down the whole city…stop everything.. and find you.
– Adam Sandler

Here’s Bruce Schneier – a frequent railer against security theater and movie plot policy – weighing in:

I generally give the police a lot of tactical leeway in times like this. The very armed and very dangerous suspects warranted extraordinary treatment. They were perfectly capable of killing again, taking hostages, planting more bombs — and we didn’t know the extent of the plot or the group. That’s why I didn’t object to the massive police dragnet, the city-wide lock down, and so on.

…readers are rightfully pointing out that the lock down was in response to the shooting of a campus police officer, a carjacking, a firefight, and a vehicle chase with thrown bombs: the sort of thing that pretty much only happens in the movies.

We could talk about the broken windows theory, or about how in attacking a longstanding civic institution it was an attack on the entire city, Americans, runners, whatever. But in the end, what matters is that everyone (good guys and bad) knows that this isn’t something you can get away with here. Boston is a brawler, and no one should think for a second that they’re going to get away from a fight without a broken nose, chipped tooth, and a couple of cracked ribs. You think twice before getting into that kind of fight, and anyone who didn’t understand that before, should now.


* I have lived in Boston in the past, commute there now for work, and will hopefully be moving back up soon. So though I’m not officially a Bostonian right now, it’s still my geographical center of gravity.

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