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Interlude II

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Was Boston Actually on Lockdown?

         When the bombing happened at the Boston Marathon in April 2013, parts of the city went into what the media called “lockdown.”  I guess that sounded inflammatory and more newsworthy, even though the actual “shelter-in-place” instruction was just a request by the governor and there were no penalties specifically for noncompliance.  (This is different from the occasional state-of-emergency responses to big storms, when threats of penalties are used to keep people off Massachusetts roads.)  City residents were urged to stay in their homes voluntarily, and most of them did so, happy to let the police do their job and search for any terrorists that might be still out there.
          That the compliance was voluntary is an important distinction.  The casualness with which people were using that term “lockdown” was disturbing.  Allowing the police to search residences was also supposed to be voluntary, unless law enforcement was found to have “probable cause” – and that is something that would need to be sorted out legally after the fact.  In fact, it should certainly be brought to court by lawyers concerned with upholding civil liberties, if only so the threat of litigation will continue to hang over every case like this.  If it does not, we might eventually find ourselves slipping into a state of martial law every time something big happens, because precedents always seem to set us up for more precedents.
          One surprising thing about the whole terrible event, though: the second bomber was not found until people went outside again.  So, cheers for the ordinary, common-sense-wielding citizens of Boston!



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