On Monday April 15th, the Boston Marathon and my hometown were attacked. By Friday, Watertown was under siege by cops and criminals. The reaction was appropriate: keep everyone safe. The choice was measured: only for one day and focused on twenty square blocks. The agents were compassionate: a cop delivered milk to a family with children. No, we do not have a police state. Yes, it was the safest course. But in what context did these events occur, and what are the implications?
We witnessed “The Ticking Time Bomb” and some of the extra-legal steps that our government took in response to an imminent terrorist threat. Governor Patrick issued a shelter-in-place order. Instead of immediately reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a man charged with murdering four people and injuring 282, his Miranda rights, the Justice Department invoked the “Public Safety Exemption”. The police conducted warrantless searches of private Watertown homes at gunpoint. If these are the plans that our government has put in place, what happens when the threat is not two men with pressure cookers, but something more destructive?
Yes, Governor Patrick and law enforcement officials showed exemplary restraint by waiting to act until their information was credible. But look at the rest of our country. On April 18, the House voted for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), and away with our 4th Amendment Rights. Should the government and private corporations conduct warrantless searches of our personal data for “cyber threat information”?
The Senate voted down expanding background checks for gun purchases and ignored 86% of Americans. Given the massive response in Boston, does the federal government see 3,400 terror deaths over forty years as a bigger threat to the American people than 900,000 gun deaths over thirty years?
In the same week as the marathon bombings and CISPA’s passage through the House, a Texas fertilizer plant exploded with materials similar to those used in the Oklahoma City Bombing. Now, fourteen people lie dead and nearly two hundred are injured, showing that poor regulation can be more deadly than terrorism.
I am touched beyond words at the outpouring of care and concern for Boston, my home, that has come from every faith and background. However, I am also worried.
On the same day that the Justice Department threatened Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Miranda rights, the House of Representatives decided that our right to privacy and protection from unreasonable search and seizure must be abridged. On the same day that Congress failed to protect American citizens from gun violence, Arkansas State Representative Nate Bell ignored the racially motivated citizens arrest of an innocent Saudi man at the Marathon; retaliatory attacks on Boston Muslims; and false accusations made on reddit towards innocent individuals. Rather, he had the gall to suggest that AR-15s with high capacity magazines would have made these people safer and not result in more death and injury. By the day that police captured Tsarnaev, regulation of the fertilizer used in the Oklahoma City Bombing had failed to prevent 15 pointless deaths and 180 senseless injuries.
While the Justice Department threatened to use an exemption, the House voted to violate the 4th Amendment. While Bostonians showed exceptional bravery, Congress refused to protect us from mass shootings. While law enforcement showed unparalleled restraint, federal regulations failed to protect innocent Americans from death and injury.
During a time of crisis, Boston and her neighbors have shown unparalleled character and integrity. Please, let their example inspire us. Let us ask: Is probable cause required for a lawful search? Is saving lives worth increased federal regulation? Are our rights a convenience or an unalienable truth?
Please, remember the helpers who ran towards their fellow human beings. Remember Martin Richard’s words, “No more hurting people. Peace.”
Correction appended: Due to an error in the editing process, a previous version of this article misrepresented the voice of the author. The article has been updated to remedy this error.