Has Watertown Made Warrantless Searches The 'New Normal'?

April 25, 2013 - 8:21 AM

The whole notion of the police "manhunt" is not a new American phenomenon. Cops chase bad guys, cops corner bad guys. Sometimes the bad guys give up quietly, sometimes they go down in a blaze of glory. But we've always had rules of engagement when it came to law enforcement interaction with the general public.

It appears all that got thrown out the window in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon terror bombing and the subsequent police chase in Cambridge, Massachusetts that came to a screeching halt in Watertown.

Seemingly, for the first time in the United States, we witnessed paramilitary-garbed law enforcement personnel forcing residents out of their homes at gunpoint. In some cases, the language used by law enforcement was menacing.

Because of the hysteria that comes after any terror event, the American people wanted the perpetrators caught and, in doing so, appeared to have allowed their rights against unlawful search and seizure to not be suspended, but removed.

How many times have we watched cop dramas on television where the police had a pretty good idea of where the bad guys were, but as they weren't sure, came to the door and asked permission to come inside to "have a look around"? The only time they ever bashed a door in is when they absolutely knew the bad guys were there. If there was ever any doubt, they'd have to wait... for a court order from a judge.

That did not happen here.

The police came to people's homes, ordered them to leave immediately at the point of a gun in some cases, and then entered their place of residence. It's never "consensual" when the person asking you for something has a gun in his hand. "Probable cause" is convenient, but in this case, very arbitrary.

Again, I understand this was the culmination of a horrific event, but let's say instead of the Thursday evening car chase racing through the streets and winding up in Watertown, it went up Route 9 and ended in very upscale Newton?

Do you think armed police would, under the authority of the governor of Massachusetts and the federal government, put an assault rifle nozzle in the face of a potential wealthy political donor? Would those policemen force the family of the elite into the streets while they entered a home that is worth 20 of their salaries combined?

If it weren't a middle class area like Watertown, would you really see a politician ordering law enforcement to forcibly enter and search homes on the upper west side of Manhattan or Georgetown or Beverly Hills? Would this happen to a celebrity in his home or, heaven forbid, a congressman?

When citizens are searched by pat-down, rousted out of their homes, and we end up thanking the police with blind understanding, the government has essentially found an acceptable means to take more of our rights away without even one politician having to cast a vote.

These past events in Watertown have set a precedent.

The police can now enter our homes anytime they want. It just requires a verbal massaging of the circumstance. After all, who ever heard of "shelter-in-place" before Friday, April 19, 2013?

If the government can order us to stay in our homes, it looks like it can throw us out of them any time it wants... at the point of a gun.

Editor's Note: Video courtesy of WHDH, Channel 7, Boston.

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