I have a question: If Boston had to be shut down to capture the two terrorists and everyone kept indoors, what was Obama and Michelle doing there before they were caught?
Did Obama’s unnecessary visit to Boston on Thursday morning divert police assets resulting in the death of MIT campus police officer, Sean Collier that same evening?
Boston lockdown: The new normal?
By: Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn
April 20, 2013 07:12 AM EDT POLITICO
By: Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn
April 20, 2013 07:12 AM EDT POLITICO
The unprecedented manhunt in Boston that concluded successfully Friday night earned law enforcement authorities the gratitude of the nation.
But as relief replaces fear, the debate about what this episode means for the future is already beginning. And one of the most unsettling questions is whether the violence-related lockdown of a major U.S. city — an extraordinary moment in American history — sets a life-altering precedent.
There are already worries that the effort to protect the people of Boston contained an element of overreaction. Local authorities told the city and nearby suburbs to “shelter in place” throughout the day and into the evening. They closed businesses, shuttered government buildings and suspended all public transportation in the metro area.
That decision concerned some political leaders and policy experts.
Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said it is “hard to imagine what could justify directing the entire population of the city to ‘shelter in place.’”
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, stopped short of directly criticizing the decision, but he lamented the development as a win of sorts for terrorists.
“When you have lives at stake, it’s up to law enforcement,” Ruppersberger said. “But it’s an accomplishment when someone shuts down an entire community and people can’t go outside and are told to stay away. We have to stand up as Americans to this. … We’ve got to continue to go to baseball games, continue to go to events. We can’t allow these people to shut us down.”
Michael Cohen, a former speechwriter for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, said authorities reacted too strongly.
“I just think it’s insane what’s going on here,” Cohen said. “I understand the need to be cautious and tell people to be cautious, but to tell people to stay inside because one guy is loose is just crazy.”
“If there was some serial killer on the loose, no one would suggest that we do a lockdown of a whole city,” said Cohen, now a fellow at the Century Foundation. “To me, it just plays on our outsized fears of terrorism. … Part of it is just cover your ass business by public officials.”
Liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler noted a tension between the shelter-in-place order in Boston and President George W. Bush’s speeches after Sept. 11 urging Americans to stimulate the economy and to visit Disney World.
“Total lockdown to catch one remaining culprit? Or ‘go shopping’?” Wheeler asked on Twitter. (Bush never used that precise phrase.)
At mid-afternoon Friday, a Boston city emergency official went before cameras to say that those who were at work when the order to get off the streets came could now drive home. But he acknowledged that would be difficult for those who use public transportation. He suggested taking taxis.
At a news conference Friday evening — before police captured suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) rescinded the stay-indoors order after hours of door-to-door searching and announced the reopening of the city’s mass transit system. He said it was time to “return to living our lives.” In response to a question, the governor defended what he acknowledged was an extraordinary request to the public.
“There was a firefight out here last night: some 200 rounds and explosives,” Patrick said. “So we were very justified, based on what we knew about the investigation in taking what we knew was a big step.”
Experts said the decision to close down the city had less do to with direct threat to members of the public and more to do with allowing the police to focus on the Watertown neighborhood — the small municipality where they found Tsarnaev hiding in a boat on Friday night.
Keeping city residents off the streets and businesses closed made it easier for Boston to send many of its police officers across the river to Watertown, where the Boston cops joined in house-by-house searches and helped keep up a perimeter so the Tsarnayev couldn’t escape.
“It’s preserving limited public safety resources to focus on this hunt,” former Homeland Security assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs Juliette Kayyem said on CNN. “It’s really to relieve the pressure on public safety.”
Paul Rosenzweig, a former senior Homeland Security Department official under Bush, said he was stunned that there had been no successful, small-scale attacks in the wake of the 2001 strikes on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
While it’s still unclear whether Monday’s attack has roots abroad, Rosenzweig said he fears that it could be the leading edge of a wave of smaller-scale attacks on lower-profile targets in the U.S. “If they decide to go after soft targets, marathons, malls, college basketball games, a million other places Americans gather — the Iowa State Fair — those are all targets,” he said. “The problem we have faced and successfully dealt with for 12 years becomes a quantum leap harder and, frankly, the number of failures is going to get greater.”
Rosenzweig said the shutdown “may be overly broad, but they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”
“If they had a more narrow targeted shutdown and the suspect broke through the cordon and killed someone, there’d be a huge” wave of criticism from the media and the public, he said.
Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) defended the Boston lockdown but said there deserves to be some second-guessing of the decision for Obama to attend a memorial service Thursday before the bombers had been apprehended. The violence that played out late Thursday might have happened while Obama was in town, which would have left police split between protecting the president and subduing the alleged bombers.
“As you look back at it, I think people will think twice about it,” said the ex-senator, who served as chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. “I’d say the next time, in a situation like this, I’d be cautious about convening a memorial service too quickly before we have some certainty about what’s going on, including bringing in the president of the United States.”
At the Friday evening briefing, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino thanked businesses for shutting down. “It was a big economic loss for them,” he said.
Boston’s metro area had $326 billion in GDP in 2011, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. That boils down to about $1 billion in activity per day, but economists who study regional data say it won’t be that big of a hit since the city’s residents will eventually be freed up to leave their homes and spend the money they would have otherwise spent Friday. Many likened it to the February blizzard that left the Northeast without power and buried under two feet of snow for several days.
“It’s like a snowstorm,” said Alan Clayton-Matthews, a Northeastern University economist. “I’d guess that most of that will be made up when safety returns.”
Returning to everyday lives since the bombings hasn’t exactly been easy for the city. More than 17,500 people attended the Bruins’ 3-2 win Wednesday night against the Buffalo Sabres, the first home game since the marathon. But the city has been slow to get back to getting work done this week — and Friday, amid the lockdown, the Bruins and the Red Sox both announced they were postponing their games.
“It’s not good for productivity,” Clayton-Matthews said.
Some critics of the Boston lockdown noted that during a hunt for a suspected cop killer in Los Angeles in February, some specific targets like schools were closed and checkpoints were established, but there was no effort to quarantine the entire metro area.
Following the 9/11 attacks, which were of a far larger scope, all civilian airplane traffic in the U.S. and Canada was grounded until Sept. 13, when service slowly resumed. Reagan National Airport in Washington reopened Oct. 4 under tighter security.
Financial activity shuttered in lower Manhattan with the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11. The New York Stock Exchange closed until Sept. 17, the longest suspension since the Great Depression. Other major landmarks also closed that day, including the Space Needle, Walt Disney World, and the Sears Tower. Major League Baseball postponed all games through Sept. 16, while the National Football League bumped the next Sunday schedule, which in turn meant delaying the Super Bowl by a week. The Emmy Awards — scheduled for Sept. 16 — were also delayed by nearly two months.
Cohen noted that despite the enormous tragedy in New York on Sept. 11, life in many parts of the city continued relatively close to normal. “I remember sitting in SoHo where people were sitting outside having lunch. People were not cowering in fear,” he said.