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The Terrorists Have Won in Boston

We can win the war on terror today, or we can choose to keep losing it. The success or failure of any terror attack is dependent on the reaction of the group attacked. Thus far, we are losing the war on terror, and the latest failure was on display in the streets of Boston during this year’s marathon.

According to the FBI terrorism refers to acts of violence that:

Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

[author image=””]Editorial by Maya Shaffer, Co-founder of The Bay State Examiner[/author]

If the intent is to instill fear in the public and/or change the policy of government, then the success of the attack depends on society’s reaction to it, not the damage done by it. We can win the war on terror by simply refusing to be intimidated into changing our way of life.

2013’s Boston Marathon bombing has been a successful attack so far. Boston has gone from being the birthplace of the Fourth Amendment to a place where people are searched without cause at police state checkpoints simply for trying to walk down public streets. We first covered this in the Bay State Examiner last year.

During both this year and last, the area near the marathon’s finish line was blocked off by checkpoints manned by private security guards under the watch of Boston police officers. Anyone with a bag or container was stopped and searched or turned away. Similar checkpoints have also been present near the Esplanade during the Fourth of July.

The "spectator guidelines" created for the Boston Marathon.

The “spectator guidelines” created for the Boston Marathon.

During both years, police issued security warnings about the checkpoints that fell short of reality. Their material asked people not to bring backpacks and other items and said doing so may result in enhanced screening and delays at checkpoints. Nowhere in the literature does it state that you will not be allowed to use the public streets and sidewalks if you refuse to allow searches. (The Boston Athletic Association has pulled down its security measures page but a cached version is available.)

I asked Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s office if it was possible to enter the finish line area without consenting to a search. Instead, I got a reply from Boston police spokesman Michael McCarthy, who simply said, “No.”

I experienced the involuntary nature of these checkpoints firsthand. People, myself included, were not allowed through unless they allowed their property to be searched.

At some checkpoints, I was ominously told that I while wouldn’t be arrested or detained, I wouldn’t make it down the sidewalk if I tried to pass through.

At other checkpoints, I was told I would be arrested but the police officers didn’t seem to know why they would arrest me. At one checkpoint, an officer was unable to say what charge he would arrest me for and offered to get his supervisor. When the supervisor showed up, he was also unable to answer the question. The supervisor called his supervisor and eventually told me I’d be charged with disorderly conduct for passing a checkpoint without consenting to a search.

At two checkpoints, police officers took a hands on approach by forcibly removing me while I objected. Given that I had broken no laws and wasn’t being detained or arrested, this use of force could not possibly be justified.

These checkpoints are clearly in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but case law suggests these they might be tolerated by the courts. When the Democratic National Convention came to Boston in 2004, similar checkpoints were set up at MBTA stations and other locations. The MBTA argued that the limited duration of the checkpoints and searches and the existence of a threat made them permissible. The courts sided with the MBTA because they thought the security benefits outweighed the the Fourth Amendment concerns.

The marathon checkpoints are limited in duration, but they recur yearly which makes them different from the DNC checkpoints, and the tactic has also been used during the Fourth of July. It’s unclear if the courts would allow these sorts of checkpoints to be used routinely or if the court intended to allow these tactics to be used for private sporting events.

The trade off that the court allowed was based on the benefits to security, but the marathon checkpoints and searches do not seem to provide any benefits at all.

I walked up to checkpoints and asked police questions while wearing a backpack with wires running out of it (to charge my equipment). I was even told by a supervisor, while he shoved me, that if I continued I’d be considered a security risk. If anyone should have been kept out of the secure area this year, it was me. While I walked the perimeter to find checkpoints, I found completely unguarded access points both years, and both years I entered the closed off area briefly without being searched.

Even if the police didn’t leave holes in the perimeter, these measures make the marathon less secure than it was in 2013. If there is another attack, the checkpoints could potentially lead to more casualties because they create bottle-necked areas where large crowds are packed much more densely than the crowds were in 2013 where the bombs went off. Video I shot during 2014 shows the massive crowds packed into the area just outside of a checkpoint, where people gathered after police said they were not admitting additional people.

Government policy has been changed in ways that are offensive to spirit of America’s founding documents. Boston isn’t being strong by allowing these checkpoints. People have been intimidated into allowing their rights to be trampled, and for nothing. The terrorists have won.

This story was originally published at The Bay State Examiner. Read the original version here.

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