Security

'Institutionalized Fear' Tarnishes Boston Marathon

Security measures don't make us safer, but they're apparently here to stay

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Massachusetts National Guard

Once again in the wake of the bloody 2013 bombing, the Boston Marathon is subject to heightened security—or the appearance of security, anyway. Attendees are discouraged from bringing backpacks and strollers and are subject to random bag checks, thousands of police and National Guard troops patrol the route and man checkpoints, private drones are banned, and people will enjoy the day under the watchful lenses of hundreds of surveillance cameras. "We also ask the public for vigilance," says Boston's Mayor Martin J. Walsh, "and are encouraging everyone, if you see something, say something.

OK, we get it. Eyes are everywhere, and so are uniforms. But is this living memorial to the old East Germany likely to make anybody safer?

"I don't think there's a lot of safety to be gained," security expert Bruce Schneier told me when similar measures were implemented for last year's Boston Marathon. "It's really for a show of force" rather than to prevent a recurrence of something like 2013's terrorist attack.

Given the 26 miles of open road involved, he didn't see how cops and Guardsman pawing through random backpacks would do anything to deter an attacker. They'd be left to respond to another incident after the fact.

Massachusetts National Guard (2014 marathon)

The 2013 attack was lethal and horrible. It was also a (happily) rare incident. In 2013, the most recent year for which the U.S. State Department publishes data, 16 Americans were killed overseas in terrorist incidents. That's up from the 10 killed in 2012, but down from the 17 deaths in 2011. Even the roughly 3,000 people murdered by the 9/11 attacks were a small fraction of the over 42,000 killed in car accidents (PDF) that year. That's not much reassurance if you're one of the victims or if you knew them, but it adds some important perspective when considering those checkpoints, cops, and random searches.

The security presence "has institutionalized fear," Schneier warned last year. "It reinforces the notion that terrorism is a big deal, when in fact…it's a really minor risk."

Nothing has changed since then. The minimal risk hasn't grown. Nor have the security efforts become more likely to actually make anybody safer. But the cops and troops and intrusions are back for another year.

"Police may implement what is billed as a temporary security regime, but then turns out to be permanent," Kade Crockford of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts told me for that 2014 piece. "All too often, when law enforcement beef up security for special events like political conventions or major sports competitions, the surveillance apparatus that's established remains firmly in place long after the crowds are gone."

Last week, Matt Welch wrote of the pointless security gauntlet baseball fans now have to navigate to get into a ballpark. You can enjoy a pat-down at football games, too.

The surveillance apparatus may or may not be here long after the crowds are gone, but it's become a regular feature of any sort of public event. And we gain nothing by its presence.

Boston Athletic Association

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  1. God help them if a car backfires nearby. They’ll be sheltering in place for weeks.

    1. BOSTON STRONG

      1. POLICE STATE STRONG

        1. People seem to like the theater, apart from whether anything real or significant is being done. I too find it tedious to the point of absurdity — I would prefer to see a little bravado among my fellow citizens — but things are as they are and fear has replaced resentment and whining as our national pastime.

  2. “OK, we get it. Eyes are everywhere, and so are uniforms. But is this living memorial to the old East Germany likely to make anybody safer?”

    I remember when the Superdome was being built in NO, a local mentioned that the ‘only thing that mattered is who got the contracts; all else is commentary’.
    So your question is irrelevant: Who gets the jobs here?

  3. Reminds me of when I drove to LAX not long after that guy capped a TSA agent and the LAPD had setup checkpoints to randomly search approaching vehicles. “Security theater” was all I could think of.

  4. J.D., you’d best remove that course map. It could be useful to, um, *tourists*, if you catch my drift.

  5. I remember visiting Berlin not long after some terrorist attack there in the 80s. I don’t recall any heightened security theater whatsoever.

    I wonder if being complete pussies is an American thing or just a sign of the times.

    1. Hey, I love being a pussy! It’s so liberating!

      1. No, pussy is fearless.

    2. Someone is going to whine at you for COLLECTIVISM

  6. They hate us for our freedoms.

  7. Barf.

    This is like looking for your keys under the streetlight. Even stupider and less rational than that, I guess. The marathon was a stupid and pointless target and it still is. It is pure theatre. Evil theatre.

    If the terrorists do hate us for our freedom, then they have won.

    1. This is like looking for your keys under the streetlight

      I can’t look for them in the dark!

      1. Well, you CAN look for them in the dark, but it makes it much harder to locate them.

  8. I dunno: sporting event, East Germany, cops on steroids, fascist government. It all fits, somehow.

    1. “The USA. Where the cops are on steroids instead of the athletes”

  9. Attendees are discouraged from bringing backpacks and strollers and are subject to random bag checks, thousands of police and National Guard troops patrol the route and man checkpoints, private drones are banned,

    God fuck me the terrorists have so completely won.

  10. are subject to random bag checks

    4th amendment, we hardly knew ye.

  11. “Even the roughly 3,000 people murdered by the 9/11 attacks were a small fraction of the over 42,000 killed in car accidents”

    This is stupid. 9/11 was a one-day event. One day of car crash fatalities would be 115.

  12. Been to Wall St in the last 14 years? It’s an armed camp. But I think the bad guys already ripped that page out of their playbook.

  13. You do realize that the point of terrorism against the U.S. is preciously to make us curb our freedoms?

  14. This is the way terrorists “win”. Death by “pin pricks”. The creation of a “police state”. The loss of freedoms we’d enjoyed since 1789. How many hundreds of billions of dollars have we spent “fighting terrorism”? This doesn’t seem to be a “war” that we’re winning…

  15. I suspect that most Americans are even safer than the “3000 deaths” would suggest: terrorists are most likely to hit NYC, LA, Boston, and DC. They aren’t that interested in mid-size cities or suburbs, and attacks there wouldn’t be that effective anyway.

    Fortunately, if you’re outside those hotbeds of progressivism, you are also a lot safer from these idiotic policies.

  16. The Boston Marathon bombings proved one thing – amerikans are cowards. After the bombing the police shut down Boston and terrorized whole Boston neighborhoods with their Gestapo tactics of throwing people out of their homes at gunpoint and then searching those homes without warrants. It was a revelation of police state tactics. If the man with the boat hadn’t called in about his suspicion of someone hiding in his boat, the Boston keystone cops would never have found anyone.

    The people of Boston also demonstrated just what kind of sheep they are when those sheep threw a parade for the police after their abuse of innocent citizens and the total destruction of their rights. It was the most despicable display of cowardice I have ever witnessed, and just more proof that “land of the free, home of the brave” is an absolute lie.

  17. the Boston Marathon is very famous and everyone must protect all attendees so that people can enjoy the game.

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