Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Police State For A Day?

Like most people with an eye on the news, my main reaction to the day-long manhunt in Boston on Friday was relief that the second bombing suspect was apprehended without further bombings or loss of life. While the lockdown was in place, I noticed a few people commenting that shutting down an entire major city (at a cost of at least hundreds of millions of dollars) in order to hunt for one guy seemed like kind of an over-reaction, and I found myself agreeing, though it didn't bother me a great deal as I figured that it might save some lives and that people would probably be pretty unproductive while watching the news all day, so just shutting things down wouldn't be a big loss.

After it was all over, I saw a link to this post from a libertarian point of view about the whole thing, and it's caused me to think a bit.

Parts of the post strike me as over played (being a 19-year-old student doesn't necessarily mean someone isn't dangerous, a 19-year-old with a lot of high explosives could be as much of a threat as a thirty-year-old) but watching the second linked video, where homeowners are ordered out of their house at gunpoint so that police can search inside for the suspect, I think you do have to ask yourself: However real the threat, does this set a precedent for giving up way too many of our rights, of our expectations for how we as a society treat each other even when we're searching for a bad-guy? Unless the police have a substantive reason for believing that a homeowner is sheltering a suspect (some sort of probable cause other than "we know he's around here somewhere") do they have any business pointing guns at ordinary citizens while demanding that they vacate their house so it can be searched?

I'm not losing massive amounts of sleep over this. Where as a conservative I differ from a libertarian point of view is that I have a certain faith in the reasonableness of the great mass of ordinary people who make up society. And so I think even if this kind of thing is tolerated in a situation where a whole city is desperately rooting for the police to find one high profile suspect, that people would very quickly turn around and demand their rights if these sort of liberties were taken by the authorities frequently. But I do think that libertarians are right to bring this up as a cause for concern. This is not how a civilized society should police itself.

And there's the wonderfully Chestertonian point that a whole day of armored vehicles and heavily armed officers searching the streets could not discover the suspect, but when ordinary people were finally let out of their homes, within an hour an ordinary bloke going into his backyard to smoke did.


Jenny said...

I do wonder about the problem of precedent. I, like you, did not feel too upset about asking folks to stay inside for the day. I know that if I lived in Boston I would have appreciated being able to stay home and not be obligated to go to work.

That being said, once one piece of law enforcement gets away with using some out of the ordinary tactic, other agencies are never far behind.

Exhibit A: "Person of Interest"
Born out of the unique situation around the anthrax poisonings, it has spread like wildfire. We don't have suspects anymore just persons of interest.

Anecdote B: Last night in a gated community in the nouveau riche part of town, a woman was found murdered in her home and her husband was the person of interest. The police completely locked down the community. No one was allowed to leave their homes or, if they had been out, enter their homes. Now maybe they would have taken that action regardless, but I suspect they were taking cues from what they had seen in Boston earlier in the week.

The one-off lockdown in an extreme situation doesn't bother me. The routine use of lockdowns during relatively routine crimes does bother me. Now where is the line?

Maiki said...

"I know that if I lived in Boston I would have appreciated being able to stay home and not be obligated to go to work."

Of course if you were a business owner in the cities affected, you just lost maybe ~1% of your income. Some businesses (like groceries) would probably recover the income in the next few days (people still need the same amount of groceries, even if they shop on a different day), but businesses like restaurants and entertainment venues would not (and for those venues, Friday income might be more critical).

Hourly workers, out-of-state workers might also incur cuts in pay.

I mean, this isn't all that different from a snowstorm, of course, but people usually have some warning for those coming and can do some planning accordingly.

I liked what my municipality did, not have a formal shelter-in-place warning, just encourage people to stay home, lock doors and close businesses voluntarily. Most people did.