It started right on schedule early Saturday morning. The second guessing and the criticism over the choices made by local, state, and federal law enforcement Friday morning regarding the pursuit of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Should the city of Boston and many of its western suburbs have been locked down for the entirety of a working day?
The carping is taking two forms, the first emerging from the conspiracy wings of both right and left. It was a demonstration by (pick one) Homeland Security, the Obama administration, the military, or just “them” to prove they could easily shut down a major American city and/or make the “sheeple” follow any order that entity might chose to give. That one is easily dismissed although the rest of us are likely to spend too much time trying to do instead of merely rolling our eyes and saying, “There you go again.”
The second will undoubtedly take hold and do a lot to undermine the gratitude and good will we saw demonstrated on the streets of Watertown and Boston after it was all over. Was the lockdown overkill, a terrible misuse of resources, an abuse of power?
Let me ask a question of my own. Would you be asking this if the two men and/or any accomplices had salted the streets of Boston or Cambridge or the subways that link so much of the area with more of those pressure cooker bombs. Would you be asking it if Tsarnaev had ultimately made his way to New York City or your own downtown?
Police and FBI were confronted with a lot of questions of their own and not a lot of information on Friday morning. They had one suspect dead and his brother on the run. They knew the latter had a gun, the two had hurled explosives at them during the pursuit and there were more bomb-making materials in their home. They knew they had hijacked a car and had money which they had taken from the hijack victim’s ATM and had killed one cop and badly injured another. They knew the dead suspect was wearing a suicide vest.
What they didn’t know was if Tsarnaev was badly injured or if he had accomplices and any way of reaching them and if he was as determined to see the cause to conclusion as his brother had apparently been. In addition they were being hit with a load of other information most of which we probably don’t yet have. We do know however they believed they had found an explosive device at Charlesgate on the other side of the river also a New York bound Amtrak train had been stopped and searched for reasons related to their quarry.
Now let me tell you what I know about Boston. It is a compact and incredibly easy town in which to move around. Cambridge is separated from Boston by a footbridge and the town borders zigzag in and out. It is possible, on a single street, to cross from one town to another and back into the first in a matter of half a block. It is almost foolish to lock down Watertown and not lock down Allston. Police were, in fact, almost immediately criticized for cordoning off an area of focus one block short of the mark.
Boston as well as its inner suburbs actually do bustle. On a normal day the traffic is pretty horrible but there are also thousands of people on foot, bike, and skateboard. Not only would it have been impossible for police to keep eyes-on all of those people but it would have been a perfect scenario for mass casualties had a final confrontation with the fugitive, with or without a suicide vest, gone down at the Arsenal Mall, or in Watertown Square. Bostonians use public transportation and while the subway doesn’t serve Watertown, both regular and electric buses do. The stops are crowded and with a hoodie pulled up and maybe sunglasses the young man could conceivable evaporate into the crowd and escape quickly to a point many miles away.
In the midst of normal day’s activity Tsarnaev could pull off a second hijack and if he were lucky the driver might not be missed for many hours. An outlaw riding a stolen bike wouldn’t look much different than a father of two using the Charles River bike path to get to work. A thousand homes, vacated for the day, might have supplied a hiding place, food, a change of clothes or other means of disguise and possibly additional guns and ammunition or a nasty surprise for a returning occupant.
Law enforcement didn’t have many good choices in the wee hours of Friday morning. Whether they should or should not have made the decisions they did make. The one decision they did make will be discussed for years in those circles where it actually matters. The police themselves can only defend their actions by disproving a negative; no one can possibly know what might have resulted differently from a less intrusive decision; maybe nothing; maybe mayhem.
Could the rest of us, who spent Friday staring at a television in Arkansas or going stir-crazy in a Brighton apartment with two bored kids, just shut up for a few days. Let’s give these people, who were in such an unenviable position and with many lives on the line, a little credit for working past exhaustion, making tough choices, and ending a horrible situation with no additional loss of life.