In the last 10 years, American forces have cleared cities house by house plenty of times. But they don’t usually do that right here in the United States.
This video shows a specific example of what it looks like when thousands of police and FBI agents descended on suburban America decked out in military gear. They had orders to clear a “20-block area” of the neighbourhood, and systematically searched from door-to-door.
The video shows police shouting at an innocent resident and barking at him repeatedly to keep his hands up.
The reason for this unpleasant approach was certainly the suspected bomber on the loose. That suspect had already killed people and police and seemed more than likely to bomb again.
Even so, the video has a few activists up in arms.
Forcing homeowners (now turned suspects) to keep their hands above their head and go along with the search, the rights of individuals soon vanished among the highly charged search for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect. (emphasis his.)
Katy Waldman of Slate wrote an explainer saying that under dire circumstances police can suspend 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches. It just depends on who’s defining “dire” and how they define it.
In exigent circumstances, or emergency situations, police can conduct warrantless searches to protect public safety. This exception to the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause requirement normally addresses situations of “hot pursuit,” in which an escaping suspect is tracked to a private home. But it might also apply to the events unfolding in Boston if further harm or injury might be supposed to occur in the time it takes to secure a warrant.
Basically, the bombing suspect was himself pretty terrifying and arguably posed an imminent danger to the public.
Under any circumstances though, house-to-house searches are no pretty sight, especially in one of America’s oldest cities.
Nate Rawlings of Time told a stark story about the lockdown and how a father and his son encountered one of these searches:
Police knocked on the door of James Gillen, a resident of Watertown who lives four blocks from where the shootout happened Thursday. They searched his home and joined up with a larger group, and the 30-officers in their tactical gear, rifles at the ready, patrolled down the street.
As the SWAT officers left [James] Gillen’s home, his two-year-old son asked why they were there. “I had to tell him that the police are looking for a bad guy,” Gillen says. Throughout the long day at home, “he keeps on asking me, ‘Did they get the bad guy?'” The rest of Boston no doubt feels the same way.
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