The Boston Massacre and the Constitution


A little more than 243 years after the Boston Massacre of 1770, the city of Boston faced another violent incident, this time carried out, not by a foreign army, but by two fanatical immigrant Muslims, in an apparent sleeper cell, upset about the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.   They, like many of their radical cohorts, desire the expulsion of troops from the Middle East and will use violence to obtain their objective, the central tenant of terrorism.

President Obama assured the nation that the attackers had “failed” to achieve their purpose.  But, whether it is an unintended consequence or not, these attacks are succeeding in a very meaningful way, with the further erosion of our constitutional liberty, the central tenant of government.

Just days after the attack, former Congressman Ron Paul went on the offensive, calling out the illegal actions taken by the powers that be:

“Forced lockdown of a city. Militarized police riding tanks in the streets. Door-to-door armed searches without warrant. Families thrown out of their homes at gunpoint to be searched without probable cause. Businesses forced to close. Transport shut down.

These were not the scenes from a military coup in a far off banana republic, but rather the scenes … in Boston as the United States got a taste of martial law. The ostensible reason for the military-style takeover of parts of Boston was that the accused perpetrator of a horrific crime was on the loose. The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city. This unprecedented move should frighten us as much or more than the attack itself.”

This strong statement had a writer for the Christian Science Monitor questioning whether Mr. Paul had gone too far.

But he had not.  Many videos show police in military gear going door-to-door, in many cases with thuggish behavior and extremely foul language, to search for the bombing suspects.  The protections guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment for the people to be “secure in their … houses” from illegal searches and seizures without a warrant were thrown completely out the window, as was freedom of movement when the governor suspended all public transportation and ordered everyone inside their homes, known as “shelter in place.”

And it did no good.  As Mr. Paul wrote, “the police state tactics in Boston did absolutely nothing to catch” the bombers.  The one suspect who was captured “was not discovered by the paramilitary troops terrorizing the public” but “by a private citizen” who called the police.  He was “identified not by government surveillance cameras, but by private citizens who willingly shared their photographs with the police.” 

The effect of the attack, as did those on September 11, 2001, have begun to make more changes to our land of liberty, or what’s left of it.  Many politicians are calling for more surveillance cameras on public streets, while others, even those who are liberty-minded, are now questioning their previously held position on the use of domestic drones, especially lethal force.

Consider a short history of drones and the dangerous, slippery slope we find ourselves on:  Unmanned drones first came about as a way to see the enemy on the battlefield that did not risk manned surveillance personnel, like cavalry scouts.  Then, missiles were added as a method of delivering a strike against the enemy that did not risk the lives of pilots.  Drones then became a way of targeting specific terror threats, such as individual Al-Qaeda leaders.  Obama, not Bush, pushed it further when he came out with a terror “hit list” that included American citizens living abroad.  In the last year, drones have become the big-ticket item for federal, state, and local police agencies to watch over the homeland.  And now we seem to be seriously considering strikes against citizens right here at home.

Most shockingly of all, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, son of Ron Paul, seems to have changed his mind on the use of drones, just weeks after a very public, and very celebrated, filibuster against the policy.  “I have never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an act of crime going on,” he said.  “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him. But it’s different if they want to come fly over your hot tub or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone, and they want to watch your activities.”

Outcry from libertarians and conservatives caused Senator Paul to walk back his statement, saying he was, like George W. Bush, “misunderestimated.”  Perhaps he was, but the example he chose was a poor one.  Do we really want to use a drone strike on someone who stole $50 from a liquor store?  God help us if it has come to that.

We live in an age of terror, they say, so our priorities must change accordingly.  To that I say, Hogwash!  To borrow a line from the film, “The Conspirator,” we must remember that our Founding Fathers crafted a Constitution for precisely times like this, so that our freedom would never be taken away by the government on the flimsiest of pretexts.

Laurel Leader Call, Thursday, May 9, 2013

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