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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Looking Back on the Boston Lockdown: Reasonably Cautious or Overkill


Downtown Boston was eerily deserted during the manhunt for the Boston Bombers 



For a major city like Boston, the capital of Massachusetts and a key metropolis, there are some who view the city-wide lockdown, which was issued as a manhunt for the Boston bombers, as a reasonable precaution to take.

The less-prevalent school of thought is that the whole scenario — the urging of residents to stay indoors, coupled with the shutting down of most schools and businesses, including the entire MBTA — was a gross example of overkill.  Frank Cillufo, the Director of Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, commented that after the attacks on 9/11, New York was not shut down in the manner in which Boston was; only potential targets like the New York Stock Exchange were closed.

The latter argument is one that I have to agree with.

Like many others in the city, I was stuck in all day, confined to my home with my eyes and ears glued to the news channels. There’s no denying that the bombings were a tragic incident — with 3 fatalities and hundreds more wounded — nevertheless, one has to wonder why so many other crimes and tragedies garner little to no attention from the media or otherwise.

According to information from the Boston Police Department, in the first three months of this year alone there were 10 homicides in Boston, and 51 in 2012. The homicide clearance rate of 2012 stands at a paltry 43 percent, but lo and behold, I see no mass manhunts, 24/7 running news stories, or even general citywide outrage at these.

What is it that makes some deaths more salient than others? Why are some deaths treated as issues of national importance while some barely make it to the papers? I’ve never understood this and perhaps I never will.

The nature of the manhunt raises another issue: did the excessive nature of the lockdown give the bombers, and other terrorists alike, an undeserved victory in terms of recognition? The answer is yes, it did.

Let’s not get confused: The crimes were definitely unforgivable, but this was not of the same caliber as events like 9/11, the carnage of Beslan in 2004, or the Bombay bombings in India. Therefore, if one compares the level of fatality to the level of attention the Boston Marathon bombing received, you might have to conclude that this was a Pyrrhic victory for the terrorists.

What is ulterior goal of terrorist attacks, aside from seeking the loss of life? To instill fear into the hearts of the people of the targeted region. Locking down Boston in order to hunt down two bombers with an entire police force did little to quell my fears — in fact, it reinforced them.

Another interesting sub plot to this drama which went unnoticed is the financial impact the lockdown had on the city.

All businesses in the city, stretching from Watertown to Cambridge were locked down (except Dunkin’ Donuts for some weird reason). The MBTA was shut down, and so was the Utility National Grid. Almost all schools in the city, including UMass Boston, cancelled classes for the day.

Now, Boston is a big city. Its annual gross domestic product is $325 billion, and it produced just under $1 billion in goods and services per day in 2011, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. This makes it the 9th largest metro area in the country. Going by the above data, it is estimated that the lockdown cost the city $1 billion — that’s a lot of zeros.

After it was all said and done, the bomber was actually caught after the lockdown was lifted. How’s that for irony?