I vividly recall the fear gripping the Washington, DC area during the sniper attacks of October, 2002. People were fearful of going to the grocery store. I remember a few gasoline stations near our Alexandria home had draped tarps around some of the pumps so the sniper couldn’t see anyone filling up their cars. The public reaction is has been described this way:
During the period of the attacks, the North American media devoted enormous amounts of air time and newspaper space to each new attack. By the middle of October 2002, all news television networks provided live coverage of the aftermath of each attack, with the coverage often lasting for hours at a time. The Fox show America’s Most Wanted devoted an entire episode to the shooters in hopes of aiding in their capture.
During the weeks that the attacks occurred, fear of the apparently random shootings generated a great deal of public apprehension, especially at service stations and the parking lots of large stores. People pumping gasoline at gas stations would walk around their cars quickly, hoping that they would be a harder target to hit. Some stations put up tarps around the awnings over the fuel pumps so people would feel safer. Also, many people would attempt to fuel their vehicles at the naval base of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as they felt it was safer inside the guarded fence. Various government buildings such as the White House, U.S. Capitol, and the Supreme Court building, and memorial tourist attractions at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. also received heightened security. Drivers of white vans and box trucks were viewed with suspicion from other motorists as initial media reports indicated the suspect may be driving such a vehicle.
After the specific threat against children was delivered, many school groups curtailed field trips and outdoors athletic activities based upon safety concerns. At the height of the public fear, some school districts, such as Henrico County Public Schools and Hanover County Public Schools, after the Ponderosa shooting, simply closed school for the day. Other schools such as the MJBHA, cancelled all outdoor activities after the shooting at the Connecticut and Aspen Hill intersection. Others changed after-school procedures for parents to pick up their kids to minimize the amount of time children spent in the open. Extra police officers were placed in schools because of this fear.
The attacks were random, and except for the mysterious white van, people feared the unknown – where would the sniper strike next?
Granted, because the shootings were so random, a “lockdown” or “shelter-in-place” order seems impractical, cumbersome and ineffective in hindsight. At the time, however, I never recall any government official, media personality, pundit or others suggesting that the environs around Washington “shelter in place” or go into “lockdown” mode.
I have been in Israel when rockets from the Gaza Strip have actually landed near where I was visiting. While the sirens wailed and people immediately sought safety in the nearby bomb shelters, never did the Israelis suggest entire communities “lockdown” or “shelter-in-place” once the rocket launches ceased. Fortunately I have not been in Israel when bombs have exploded on transit buses or sidewalk cafes. But others have been there when that occurred. Their reaction?
There was no lockdown in Israel and there was no order by the mayor to seek shelter.
Instead, people were out in the streets, filling up coffee shops right next to the one that had been bombed or standing at bus stops waiting for the next bus from the same line that had just exploded. This has always impressed me as a sign of true resilience, of a refusal to allow terrorism to change our way of life.
The person who wrote those words was in Boston when the “lockdown” and “shelter in place” was ordered. Here is more of his reaction:
Yes, on Friday there was a 19-year-old terrorist on the loose, but did that mean that nearly 5 million people needed to stay locked inside their homes? Did it warrant the complete suspension of public transportation, of taxis, of Amtrak trains between Boston and the rest of the East Coast? The postponement of the Red Sox-Royals game, the Bruins-Penguins game? I’m not sure.
Also, it was strange when considering that from Monday – when the bombings took place – until Friday, there were two terrorists on the loose and there was no consideration of a lockdown.
Now, with one terrorist still free there is a lockdown? Shouldn’t the opposite have happened? But even ignoring the operational considerations, there is symbolism when one of the US’s largest cities paralyzes itself in face of terrorism.
Is this the message the US wants to send around the world: That a single terrorist can disrupt so many lives and possibly more important – the American way of life? I’m also not sure.
The “lockdown” and “shelter-in-place” order came only after the suspects encountered police in a bloody gun battle, in which more than 200 rounds were fired. Reports are that at that encounter, which resulted in the “lockdown” and “shelter-in-place” order the suspects also threw another pressure-cooker explosive device at law enforcement.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
Remember Chris Dorner, the former Los Angeles Police Department officer and Naval officer that shot numerous people in shootouts in Southern California? He had several encounters with law enforcement resulting in gunfire and wild-west-like shootouts in public.
The lockdown in that case came when Dorner had been confined to an area that could be sealed off: Big Bear, California.
The lockdown in that case was limited, confined, and based on law enforcement’s belief Dorner had been located. It was not based on speculation that the perpetrator was still in a larger, metropolitan area (such as greater Boston or in the Dorner case, greater Los Angeles).
The Boston lockdown seems an overreaction, overly-broad, and unnecessary. In fact, consider the following:
At a news conference Friday evening — before police captured suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev [emphasis added] — Governor 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.”
The extraordinary measures, taken to protect public safety from the violence of the yet-to-be-captured suspect, was rescinded prior to the suspect being caught.
That decision necessarily begs the question whether the “lockdown” and “shelter-in-place” order was appropriate in the first place; or, at least begs the question whether it was overly broad in its scope.
Before that order was implemented the President of the United States traveled to Boston for a memorial event. And during that time the suspect was still at large.
The lockdown included a shutdown of Amtrak rail service between Boston and New York. The lockdown included a shutdown of all mass transit in Boston. Yet, many people use Amtrak between New York and Boston, never traveling into either Boston or New York, but stops in between. Many people, already at work in Boston, were left stranded after the shutdown of mass transit, and were told to take taxis home.
I thought there was a lockdown?
Conservatives need to seriously think-through their blanket acceptance of a lockdown and shelter in place order based on the perceived threat of one person that is using a homemade bomb as opposed to any other weapon. The blanket knee-jerk reaction of simply accepting these orders on their face based on “public safety” is frightening.
Most of all it is frightening because it shows terrorists we are willing to sacrifice liberty for safety, and will only encourage more attacks based on our fearful retreat into our homes and basements.
Yes, if there is a violent suspect loose in my neighborhood, I’m locking my doors, gathering my family and guns, and sheltering in place.
But if there is a violent suspect in your neighborhood, I expect you to do the same while I go about my business.
Is that wrong?