By Radley Balko
In those first hours after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, some progressive pundits pointed out that the attacks had occurred on Patriot’s Day, the holiday observed in Massachusetts and Maine to mark the battles at Lexington and Concord, the fights that began the American Revolution. Others noted the significance of the date, suggesting some connection without explicitly making one.
They were of course wrong in their implication (in some cases they seemed downright hopeful) that the attacks may have been perpetrated by a militia or some other group far on the right wing. But by the time Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended on the evening of April 19, there actually was a connection – not on who perpetrated the attack, but in how the government reacted to it. By the Friday following the bombing, some 9,000 cops, SWAT teams, and National Guard troops had descended upon Boston in the effort to find the remaining attacker. It was one of the largest law enforcement operations — possibly the largest — in one city in U.S. history.
Boston — often called the Cradle of Liberty — has often been the scene of political protest, political violence, and heavy-handed government crackdowns — military, paramilitary, and otherwise. As a result, throughout American history the city has been at the center of contentious, often furious debate over how best to balance public safety, crime fighting, and national defense with liberty and individual rights. Indeed, clashes in Boston between citizens and government played prominently into the colonies’ decision to fight the American Revolution itself; the dismantling of the Articles of Confederation; adoption of the Second, Third, and Fourth Amendments; the decision to include provisions for a standing army in the U.S. Constitution; the president’s authority to deploy soldiers domestically; and both the Posse Comitatus Act and the efforts to dismantle it the modern drug war era.
So instead of doing a “Raid of the Day” to promote my forthcoming book this week, I’m going to delve into some of this Boston history. We’ll start tomorrow in the colonial era, when British troops were billeted in Boston to enforce customs and import laws. On Wednesday, I’ll look at the Fugitive Slave hearings of the 1850s, the city’s hostility to the federal law behind those hearings, the government’s resulting crackdown, and the lasting consequences of that crackdown. On Thursday, I’ll look at Boston in the 1980s and 1990s, as the drug war effectively imposed martial law on the city’s poor and minority neighborhoods. Finally, on Friday, I’ll look at what Boston’s unique place in this historical debate can tell us about the city, state, and federal government efforts to apprehend the brothers Tsarnaev.
Boston and Militarism: The Colonial Era
This is part two of a series of posts on the Boston Marathon bombings, the government response, and Boston unique historical perspective on militarism and civil liberties. See part one here.)
The first instance of government militarism in the streets of Boston is a big reason why there’s a United States of America in the first place: the billeting of British troops in the city in the 1760s.
England sent the troops to Boston as tension between the colonies and London were beginning to boil over. Worse yet, the crown imposed new taxes on the colonists to fund the operation — effectively sticking them with the bill for their own occupation. The British troops stationed in Boston backed up the crown’s customs agents and tax collectors. Armed with general warrants that needn’t identify specific suspects or residences, they had the power to go door to door, to break into private homes, to conduct searches for contraband, and to seize any they found.
Clippings from city newspapers and public journals during the British occupation of Boston document tension between British troops and Bostonians, with clashes beginning almost immediately after they arrived from Halifax, Nova Scotia — and then only escalating from there.
Here’s an entry from February 27, 1769:
Our former predictions of what would be the unhappy effects of quartering troops in this town, have been too fully verified: The are now the most wretchedly debauched, and their licentiousness daily increasing; a particular enumeration of instances thereof, would be as tedious, as it is painful. Two women the other evening, to avoid the solicitations and insults of a soldier, took refuge in a house, at the south end of the town; the soldier was so audacious, as to enter with them: The cries of distress, brought the master of the family . . . [when] he received a stroke from the soldier with his cutlass, which brought him to the ground, where he lay senseless for some time, and suffered the loss of a quart of his blood . . . Another woman . . . received a considerable wound on her head with a cutlass; and a 3rd. woman presuming to scream, when laid hold of by a soldier, had a bayonet run through her cheek.
Here’s another entry, from July 25, 1769:
A country butcher who frequents the market, having been in discourse with Riley, a grenadier of the 14th Regiment, who he said had before had abused him, thought proper to offer such verbal resentment as led to the soldier to give him a blow, which felled the butcher to the ground, and left other proofs of his violence. The assaulter had before Mr. Justice Quincy, convicted and fined, and upon refusing to make payment, was ordered to goal; but rescued out of the hands of the constable, by a number of armed soldiers, in the sight of the justice, when they carried their rescued comrade, in triumph, thro’ the main street to to his barracks, flourishing their naked cutlasses, giving out that they had good support in what they were doing, and that they defied all opposition.
And another, from December 18, 1768.
There has of late been several smart encounters between the soldiers quartered in this town and the seamen belonging to the men of war now in the harbor, they discover a very particular dislike or rather enmity to each other. This evening a number of soldiers and sailors happened to meet, when a bloody affray ensured; in which it is said the seamen were victors: Several of the parties have lost thumbs and fingers or were otherwise badly wounded . . . It is to be feared the indiscretion and animosity of these people may in the course of the winter be productive of other disagreeable consequences; and further evince that the piece and good order of the town is not like to be preserved or promoted by our military inmates.
British troops and customs agents also took possession of John Hancock’s sloop Liberty after Hancock was caught smuggling cases of Madeira. The seizure from Hancock — the much-beloved civic leader who would famously sign the Declaration of Independence large enough to ensure the King of England could read it — inspired rioting and, in response to the rioting, deployment of yet more British soldiers to Boston.
Here’s the partisan, Revolution-era historian Mercy Otis Warren, commenting on the clashes:
The disembarkation of the king’s troops, which took place on the first of October, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight, was viewed by a vast crowd of spectators, who beheld the solemn prelude to to devastation and bloodshed with a kind of sullen silence, that denoted the deepest resentment . . .
The experience of all ages, and the observations of both the historian and the philosopher agree, that a standing army is the most ready engine in the hand of despotism, to debase the powers of the human mind, and eradicate the manly spirit of freedom.
The people have certainly everything to fear from a government, when the springs of its authority are fortified only by a standing military force. Wherever an army is established, it introduces a revolution in manners, corrupts the morals, propagates every species of vice, and degrades the human character.
Even British loyalists in the colonies drew on the fear of standing armies to urge the colonies to avoid war with England. A war, they argued, would invite a more thorough and abusive occupation.
Here’s a particularly colorful articulation of that point from James Galloway, a friend of Ben Franklin’s and a member of the First Continental Congress, writing in 1775:
Companies of armed, but undisciplined men, headed by men unprincipled, entering your homes–your castles–and sacred repositories of safety for all you hold dear and valuable–seizing your property and carrying havoc and devastation wherever they head–ravishing your wives and daughters, and afterwards, plunging the dagger into their tender bosoms while you are obliged to stand the speechless, the helpless spectators.
The clashes between the troops and colonists in Boston grew increasingly violent, culminating in the Boston Massacre in 1770, sometimes described as the first shots of the American Revolution. The lasting impact of those clashes on the founders, and the debates they had following the Revolution, are a big reason why today we have the Second, Third, and Fourth amendments. It also imprinted in the country’s DNA a lasting aversion to the use of military troops for domestic law enforcement.
But immediately following the Revolutionary War, an uprising of disgruntled veterans quelled some of those fears, and convinced early federalists that the federal government needed more power to crush insurrections. In the fall of 1786, Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays grew disillusioned after losing his savings and eventually his home to creditors, due to debts he had accumulated while fighting.
Shays assembled a group of 800 other veterans and supporters to march on Boston. Theyplanned to forcibly close down the city’s courthouses to prevent them from foreclosing on the veterans’ farms — and to spring other veterans from debtors’ prison. After some initial success, the movement threatened to erupt into a full-scale rebellion.
By January 1787 Massachusetts political leaders feared that Shays and his men would move on a munitions armory near Springfield. Governor James Bowdoin had asked the Continental Congress for help, but under the Articles of Confederation governing the country at the time, the new federal government didn’t have the power to provide that sort of military assistance to the states. Bowdoin assembled a small army of mercenaries, paid for by the creditors hounding men like Shays. The rebels were defeated at a battle near the armory. Four of them were killed. A series of skirmishes followed, and by the summer of 1787 the rebellion had been broken.
Shays’ rebellion was never a serious threat to overthrow any government, and it was put down relatively quickly. But its success in temporarily shutting down courthouses in Boston convinced many political leaders in early America that the country needed a stronger federal government than the one provided by the Articles of Confederation. “To men like Madison and Washington, Shays’s Rebellion was an imperative,” write the historians Christopher and James Collier. “It was the final, irrefutable piece of evidence that something had gone badly wrong. For some time these men had known that the deficiencies of American government must be remedied. Shays’s Rebellion made it clear to them that it must be done now.”
Memories of the rebellion replaced some of the memories of the abuses suffered at the hands of British troops, and many in the new government grew more comfortable with the use of federal force to put down domestic uprisings. In 1792, five years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, Congress passed the Calling Forth Act, which gave the president the authority to unilaterally call up and command state militias to repel insurrections, attacks from hostile American Indian tribes, and other threats that presented themselves while Congress wasn’t in session.
Nervousness about Shays’ rebels drove the law, as did concerns about the growing discontent over one of the country’s first federal taxes–an excise tax on whiskey. Under the Calling Forth Act, the president could federalize and deploy the militia “whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act.”
Two years later, President George Washington used the law to put down the Whiskey Rebellion – the first instance of a U.S. president using federal soldiers (in this case militia — the country didn’t yet have a standing army) against American citizens.
Tomorrow: Boston falls under martial law after an escaped slave is ordered back to his Virginia plantation.
Radley Balko is author of the forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.
Sources: Mercy Otis Warren, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution: Interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations, Volume 1; Manning and Loring, For E. Larkin, No. 47; Cornhill (1805); Oliver Morton Dickerson, Boston Under Military Rule 1768-1769: As Revealed in a Journal of the Times, Chapman & Grimes (1936); Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier, Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787, Ballantine Books (1987).
Boston And Militarism: The Fugitive Slave Hearings
(This is part three in a series of posts on the Boston Marathon bombings, the government response, and Boston unique historical perspective on militarism and civil liberties.
The second historically significant incident involving Boston and a government-ordered lockdown came during the fugitive slave hearing of Anthony Burns in 1854. The hearing was the product of the Fugitive Slave Act, an odious law passed as part of the Compromise of 1850, a package of bills negotiated between northern and southern interests in Congress aimed at staving off a civil war.
Congress had already passed a law called the Fugitive Slave Act in 1793 as the means to enforce Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited citizens from aiding the escape of slaves and mandated their return to their masters. But as slavery fell out of favor in the north, free states found ways around the law, and many cities and towns became places of refuge for freed slaves. A few northern state legislatures, for example, passed laws making it easier for escaped slaves to win their freedom. This included granting them jury trials, where northern juries often engaged in the doctrine of jury nullification, by refusing to convict either escaped slaves or the citizens who aided them. Other states passed statutes making it illegal for state employees to help enforce the federal law, a practice the U.S. Supreme Court ruled constitutional in 1843.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 sought to plug these holes in the original. Under the new law, any black person in a free state could be claimed as an escaped slave on little more than the word of a southerner who’d could say he’d come to claim him. The accused would then be arrested and given a hearing in front of a specially appointed commissioner. Anyone aiding a slave’s escape, including offering food or water, was guilty of a federal felony, punishable by a $1,000 fine and six months in prison. The law called for federal marshals to be paid bonuses for capturing escaped slaves, and fined them $1,000 if they refused to arrest any black person a white person claimed as a slave. The commissioners themselves were paid $10 if they ruled in favor of the slave owner, but only $5 if they ruled in favor of the accused.
In the next decade, defenders of the Confederacy would embrace a perverted notion of federalism to defend slavery, but in the 1850s the strongest challenges to federal supremacy came from northern states challenging the Fugitive Slave Act, either by passively refusing to enforce it, or directly acting to nullify it.
The two American presidents of the era — Millard Fillmore and Franklin pierce–struggled to determine at what point such conscientious objections crossed over into insurrection, which would then permit them to send in troops to enforce federal law.
Just months after the act became law, for example, Vermont passed legislation requiring state officials to assist escaped slaves. That of course compelled Vermont authorities to resist the federal authorities charged with capturing those same slaves. The law was an open act of nullification. Fillmore threatened to send the U.S. Army into Vermont in response, but ultimately decided against it.
Before Burns’ hearing in 1854, there had been other rebellions against the Fugitive Slave Act in Boston. In fact, Boston had acquired a reputation as a sanctuary for escaped slaves. Several years earlier William and Ellen Craft, a married slave couple, had escaped to Boston from a plantation in Macon, Georgia, with the help of the Boston Committee of Vigilance and Safety, an abolitionist group. The couple was then able to flee to England before a team of federal and southern slave catchers could apprehend them. Once safely in Britain, the two became minor celebrities. They wrote articles and gave speeches denouncing and ridiculing the U.S. and the south for still defending the practice of slavery.
The Vigilance Committee also staged a daring rescue of Shadrach Minkins, an escaped slave from Norfolk who had been captured in Boston by federal marshals. Abolitionists stormed the courtroom during Minkins’ hearing, overpowered the federal guards, spirited Minkins away to Beacon Hill, and then eventually moved him to Canada. President Filmore ordered the prosecution of the nine abolitionists who aided the rescue. Those prosecutions were led by then-Secretary of State Daniel Webster, who had previously represented Boston in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. Webster had also made a famous speech in support of the Fugitive Slave Act and the larger Compromise of 1850 on the floor of the Senate, and his political reputation was staked to its success. He was embarrassed by how difficult it had become to enforce the law he championed in his own state. The embarrassment must have only compounded for him when every abolitionist he put on trial for conspiring to free Minkins was acquitted.
Fillmore initially responded with a public condemnation of Minkins’ rescue, which Webster co-signed. But Webster wanted more. He wanted the rescuers tried for treason, and had urged Fillmore to send federal troops into Boston to reinforce the slave catchers and provide security during deportations. After meeting with his cabinet, Filmore ultimately decided federal marshals had the power to summon military troops to help them catch escaped slaves, but that they should first get authorization from a district court judge.
During the 1851 fugitive slave hearing of Thomas Sims, the abolitionists again threatened a rescue. Secretary of War C.M. Conrad told the commander of U.S. troops in Boston Harbor not only to be ready for such an authorization, but to be willing to send troops to Boston on the request of a single U.S. Marshal alone if a judge wasn’t available. Ultimately, the abolitionists failed in their attempt at a rescue, and Sims was found guilty and sent back to Georgia. Fillmore wrote Webster to congratulate him on his native city’s successful deportation of Sims back into slavery without need for the aid of soldiers.
But the slave hearing of Anthony Burns went down very differently. Burns, 19, had escaped to Boston from his master’s estate in Richmond, Virginia. He was working for a clothier when he was apprehended by slave catcher. On the morning of his hearing, the Vigilance Committee used a battering ram to force their way into the courthouse, then stormed the building with pickaxes, clubs, and revolvers. A federal marshal was killed in the fracas. The rescue was unsuccessful, and the rescuers were arrested, although none of them were ever convicted of a crime.
By the time of Burns’ hearing, Bostonians had come to hate the Fugitive Slave Act, a sentiment increasingly common across much of the north, particularly after the more slavery-friendly Franklin Pierce was elected president in 1852. When Burns’ hearing resumed the day after the abolitionists had stormed the courthouse, thousands of Bostonians turned out in protest. Alarmed by the the actions of the abolitionists and the apparently broad support they had in his city, Boston Mayor J.V.C. Smith called up two companies of the Massachusetts militia to guard the courthouse. Finding those forces inadequate, he then called President Pierce directly, and requested that two U.S. Army battalions and a group of Marines be sent to the city.
Though from New Hampshire, Pierce sympathized with the slave states (he would later pledge support for the Confederacy during the Civil War), and campaigned on more stringent enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. So when Smith asked for troops, Pierce was happy to oblige. He also put hundreds more troops on standby to descend on Boston if needed.
By the end of the week, the Burns hearing still hadn’t concluded. Because he’d be kept in a jail over the weekend, the federal troops would remain in the city. Finally, at 9am on June 2, Slave Commissioner Edward G. Loring ordered Anthony Burns back to his shackles in Virginia. An estimated 50,000 Bostonians took to the streets and to rooftops to protest. They flew American flags upside down, and screamed “Kidnappers!” at the police and soldiers. One group hoisted a coffin with a banner that read, “The Funeral of Liberty.” The city was angry, not just at the law itself, but at the amount of force their own state officials had brought to bear to enforce it. Once Loring issued his decision, Boston went into lockdown. The historian Robert C. Coakley sets the scene.
At 0800 the 1st Brigade of the Massachusetts Militia began assembling on Boston Common; troops involved included two cavalry companies of hte 1st Battalion of Light Dragoons, eight companies of the 5th Regiment of Artillery, eight companies of the 5th Regiment of Light Infantry, and three companies of the 3d Battalion of Light Infantry, plus the Independent Company of Cadets–a total of twenty-two companies and about 1,000 men. At 0730 the three companies of regulars (Army and Marine Corps) took their position on the courthouse square. Following the 0900 decision to render Burns, he remained under heavy guard in the courthouse while preparations were made to escort him to the harbor. At 0930 when Loring’s decision was made known to the crowd outside, the Boston police cleared the square and posted a force at each of the avenues leading into it. At 1000 a detachment of regular artillery went through “dry run” practice of loading and firing the cannon in the square. At about the same time, Mayor Smith issued a proclamation that was posted throughout the city, declaring that General [Thomas F.] Edmands and the chief of police had full discretionary power to uphold the laws and would station their troops for this purpose. In effect the directive put the city under martial law. Its legality was later seriously questioned.
It took hours for the soldiers to clear the streets. On a number of occasions, the troops nearly opened fire on the crowd. In one instance, some troops mistook a crowd surge for an assault and charged Bostonians with bayonets. There were scores of serious injuries, but somewhat miraculously, there were no fatalities.
Once the streets were cleared, troops marched Anthony Burns from the courthouse to a ship waiting for him at the docks. It hadn’t yet been a century since English troops fired on protesting Bostonians, an act that moved the country toward revolution. On the morning of June 2, 1854, American soldiers lined Boston’s streets, fired shots from a cannon positioned in the town square as a warning to their fellow Americans, and threatened further military force in an effort to intimidate citizens who were angry that their government was about to force another human being back into slavery.
A month later, in a speech to an anti-slavery group he gave on the Fourth of July, Henry David Thoreau reflected on the scene in Boston.
The whole military force of the State is at the service of a Mr. Suttle, a slaveholder from Virginia, to enable him to catch a man whom he calls his property; but not a soldier is offered to save a citizen of Massachusetts from being kidnapped! Is this what all these soldiers, all this training, have been for these seventy-nine years past? Have they been trained merely to rob Mexico and carry back fugitive slaves to their masters?
These very nights I heard the sound of a drum in our streets. There were men training still; and for what? I could with an effort pardon the cockerels of Concord for crowing still, for they, perchance, had not been beaten that morning; but I could not excuse this rub-a-dub of the “trainers.” The slave was carried back by exactly such as these; i.e., by the soldier, of whom the best you can say in this connection is that he is a fool made conspicuous by a painted coat.
Three years ago, also, just a week after the authorities of Boston assembled to carry back a perfectly innocent man, and one whom they knew to be innocent, into slavery, the inhabitants of Concord caused the bells to be rung and the cannons to be fired, to celebrate their liberty — and the courage and love of liberty of their ancestors who fought at the bridge. As if those three millions had fought for the right to be free themselves, but to hold in slavery three million others . . . So some of my townsmen took the liberty to ring and fire. That was the extent of their freedom; and when the sound of the bells died away, their liberty died away also; when the powder was all expended, their liberty went off with the smoke.
In response to what the Pierce administration saw as open rebellion in Boston, Attorney General Caleb Cushing issued what became known as the Cushing Doctrine. The new policy, which was far more revolutionary than the subtle way it was enacted may have suggested, allowed any U.S. Marshall in the country to enlist the aid of federal troops to help enforce federal law. The policy was unquestionably a response to the Burns hearing, and was intended to enlist federal soldiers in the practice of rounding up blacks in the north who had been accused of escaping slavery.
Ironically, in ten years the policy would be used primarily to help federal prosecutors and U.S. Marshals enforce Reconstruction in the former Confederate states. The Cushing Doctrine was finally repealed in 1878 by an amendment to an Army appropriations bill sponsored by Kentucky Rep. J. Proctor Knott. The amendment read:
From and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States, as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress.
Knott’s amendment was an explicit repeal of Cushing’s directive. It prohibited any use of the U.S. military for domestic law enforcement purposes unless first authorized by the president or a preempted by a law passed by Congress. It became known as the Posse Comitatus Act, and it’s still in effect today. The law is often misunderstood to prohibit any use of military troops for domestic law enforcement. This is incorrect. It only requires authorization from the president (under a number of other laws that lay out the criteria for such deployments) or the passage of a subsequent law. Since then, Congress has passed a number of laws authorizing military involvement in domestic law enforcement, particularly with respect to the drug war.
But more significantly, the term Posse Comitatus has come to symbolize the American principle of keeping the military separate and distinct from law enforcement. It’s a term often invoked when U.S. troops or National Guardsmen are deployed during riots or after natural disasters, or to criticize the use of military tactics, weapons, and rhetoric by domestic police agencies. Consquently, the term Posse Comitatus has been invoked fairly frequently in these last two weeks since the massive show of government force in response to the marathon bombings. It’s a term that carries some unique historical significance to Boston.
Tomorrow: The drug war occupation of Boston.
Radley Balko is author of the forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.
Sources: Jacqueline Jones, Saving Savannah, The City and the Civil War, Random House (2008); Stanley W. Campbell, The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850-1860, University of North Carolina Press, (1970); Gary L. Collison, Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen, Harvard University Press (1998); Charles Emery Stevens, Anthony Burns: A History, John P. Jewett and Company (1856); Albert J. Von Frank, The Trial of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson’s Boston, Harvard University Press (1998); Chuck Leddy, “Boston Combusts: The Fugitive Slave Case of Anthony Burns,” Civil War Times, May 2007; Stephen Puleo, A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis: Boston 1850-1900, Beacon Press (20120); Henry David Thoreau, “Slavery in Massachusetts,” speech delivered in Framingham, Massachusetts on July 4, 1854; Clayton Laurie and Ronald Cole, The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disputes, 1877-1945, Center for Military History, United States Army (1997).
Boston And Militarism: The Modern Drug War
(This is part four in a series of posts on the Boston Marathon bombings, the government response, and Boston unique historical perspective on militarism and civil liberties.
The most persistent and significant contributor to police militarization and the erosion of civil liberties has of course been the modern drug war. (Perhaps rivaled over the last decade by the war on terrorism.) And in the 30 years since Ronald Reagan accelerated the push to a martial approach to drug prohibition, Boston has seen a number of constitutionally questionable crackdowns, but has also produced some interesting push-back and public debate.
In the early 1980s, Boston authorities introduced widespread stop-and-frisks, barricades, and other high-intensity policing tactics in high-crime neighborhoods like Roxbury and Matapan. Critics claimed police were implementing a “search on sight” policy of black men in some neighborhoods, doing away even with the low bar of needing reasonable suspicion before conducting stop-and-frisks. Police admitted a search-on-sight policy, but only for anyone known to be or suspected of being in a gang, along with anyone who associates with those people. They also claimed to be following a vague policy that allowed them to search anyone they felt “causes fear in a community.”
According to a subsequent lawsuit, black men were stopped, patted down, and in some cases strip searched for no more than wearing the sports logo of a particular professional sports team. A Boston Globe investigation found 15 people who had been stripped searched on the street, but were never arrested.
State Sen. William Owens said the tactics were alienating an entire generation of black men, and that had effectively imposed martial law on some communities. Tensions boiled over in 1989 when a plainclothes officer shot 30-year-old Rolando Car during a stop-and-frisk after mistaking Carr’s keys for a gun. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Cortland Mathers later ruled that the policy was ”in effect, a proclamation of martial law in Roxbury for a narrow class of people, young blacks.”
A few years later, police erected barricades in the community of Lawrence, about 40 minutes north of Boston. Residents of Lawrence were issued passes that they had to show to get into and out of the neighborhood. Anyone entering Lawrence had their vehicle license plate documented by police manning a barricade. A letter was then sent to the registered owner of the vehicle to let him know the car had been spotted in Lawrence. The director of the ACLU in Massachusetts said of the tactics, “This is martial law, without the federal troops.” Police Chief Allen Cole described the tactics as a form of community policing.
One of the more interesting feuds came in the early 1990s, when the Clinton administration imposed a zero tolerance policy on drugs and weapons in federally-subsidized public housing. The new policy: warrantless searches of anyone living in public housing. Boston Housing Authority Administrator David Cortiella fought the plan, which he called a declaration of martial law on the poor. In a 1994 editorial, the Boston Globe chastised Cortiella, scolding that asking poor people to give up their Fourth Amendment writes was “no more dramatic than violent crime in America.” The Globe editorial added, “It’s not as if police SWAT teams will routinely slam through doors.”
In fact, that is exactly what happened. Two years later, ABC News aired dramatic footage of a SWAT team raiding a public housing facility in Toledo, Ohio. The violent raid turned up less than an ounce of marijuana in the bedroom of a teenager who lived in the house. That was enough to evict the entire family. ABC, the Clinton administration, and local authorities deemed the raid a small victory in the war on drugs. After a series of particularly violent, warrantless raids on public housing units in Chicago, a federal judge ruled the practice unconstitutional. The Clinton administration responded with a new plan — require public housing tenants to sign over their Fourth Amendment rights in their leases. The White House argued that the searches would then be consensual.
Boston also hasn’t been immune to the massive increase in drug raids outside of public housing since the early 1980s. In 1988, Boston Det. Sherman Griffiths was shot and killed during a police raid on a residence they suspected was occupied by Jamaican drug dealers. The suspected shooter, 34-year-old Albert Lewin was acquitted three years later after a series of investigations revealed widespread corruption and perjury within the department. In the raid that ended one of their colleague’s life, one BPD sergeant admitted in testimony that he had fabricated the informant whose alleged tip led to the raid in the first place. Waiting to establish probable cause — in other words, respecting Lewin’s constitutional rights — was too time consuming. Sources in BPD told the Globe that “enormous public pressure on police to arrest drug dealers . . . has led some detectives to find ‘workable’ solutions to what police see as unworkable constitutional requirements for warrants.”
The Lewin/Griffiths case also brought to light that Boston narcotics cops were routinely falsifying search warrants in drug cases — which means they were routinely raiding homes without probable cause. A Boston Globe review of 350 drug warrants found that fabrication of informants, exaggeration of probable cause, and boilerplate language was common. By one estimate, the number of drug warrants served by Boston police jumped from around 300 in 1985 to more than 3,000 by 1990.
The problem wasn’t just in Boston. In a federal trial held at about the same time, a Philadelphia narcotics cop admitted that he and his colleagues fabricated informants on hundreds of search warrants. These warrants then authorized violent forced-entry raids on private homes.
City officials, judges, and prosecutors had little interest in holding them accountable. One former high-ranking BPD officer had at one point hired an attorney to look into the growing problem of falsification of drug warrants, and to discipline officers found to have lied or used boilerplate language on such warrants, but his efforts were thwarted by the police union.
As the Boston Globe noted in a 1990 article, the residents of the city didn’t seem particularly concerned either — these raids on innocent were being conducted in mostly poor, mostly minority neighborhoods. “I don’t think the electorate is too concerned with the rights of drug dealers,” one criminologist told the paper.
And so the raids went on. In 1995, the Rev. Accleyne Williams, a 75-year-old retired minister, died of a heart attack after struggling with 13 members of a masked, heavily armed Boston SWAT team that stormed his apartment on such a raid. The police later revealed that an informant had given them incorrect information.
Doctors later concluded that Williams had literally been scared to death. One BPD source told the Boston Globe that was entirely the point. The raid team, for example, wore black ski mask hats to terrify their suspects. “The psychological impact of confronting a masked face with a shotgun pointed at you can be devastating,” the source said.
According to the Boston Herald, “a warrant authorizing the raid was approved by Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Mary Lou Moran, even though the application supporting the warrant did not specify which apartment on the building’s second floor was to be targeted. It also failed to provide corroboration of the confidential informant’s tip that a Jamaican drug posse operated out of the building.” In fact, the police officer who signed the affidavit for the warrant swore that the informant was trustworthy, even though he had previously falsely implicated a friend in a shooting three years earlier.
Another police source told the Herald: “You’d be surprised at how easily this can happen. An informant can tell you it is the apartment on the left at the top of the stairs and there could be two apartments on the left at the top of the stairs . . . You are supposed to verify it, and I’m not making excuses, but mistakes can be made.”
Another Boston Herald investigation later discovered that three of the officers involved in the Williams raid had been accused in a 1989 civil rights suit of using nonexistent informants to secure drug warrants. The city had in fact just settled a suit stemming from a mistaken raid five years earlier. According to witnesses, one of the officers in that raid apologized as he left, telling the home’s terrified occupants, “This happens all the time.”
Interestingly, both Boston and Massachusetts have in recent years put up more resistance to police militarization than most cities and states. In 2009, for example, city police leaders and head of the FBI’s Boston office argued in favor of arming the city’s patrol officers with military-grade weapons to prevent a terrorist attack like the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. But ultimately, the city decided against the weapons, deeming them unnecessary.
That same year, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick went even further. After a Boston Globe investigation found that vast amounts of military-grade guns, vehicles, and other weapons were being transferred to the state’s police agencies by way of the Pentagon’s 1033 program, Patrick suspended the state’s participation in the program pending an investigation into how the equipment is being used. As we saw in the response to the marathon bombings, the move was in some ways merely symbolic. That program and others had already been arming Boston’s police agencies for decades. The SWAT teams have been in place for years.
But that Boston and Massachusetts have pushed back even a little sets both apart from most of the rest of the country. And it’s particularly interesting given the city’s rich history as a hub of continuing debate over the proper way to ensure safety while protecting and preserving civil liberties.
While the vast majority of this Nation are content to sit on their ass and focus on being entertained to death, or actually do have family obligations that are above their physical or intellectual capabilities, and have no time or inclination to learn what is happening in America; there remain some of us who have made it the most important obligation we have ever thought possible. This is no picnic folks, it takes twelve hours a day seven days a week to read all the crap that is going on in our government. But the most devastating, depressing part of this endeavor is the incomprehensible acceptance of this crap by the majority of the people. By all that’s holy and good, the American people should rise up and throw these bastards in office under the bus. They are lying, cheating, stealing, murdering scumbags too filthy to use words to explain. And the national acceptance of them and their actions is enough to make a warrior cry for shame. What has happened to you, America? Where is your common sense? Why do you support people who are engaged in designing your demise? I was recently chastised by an elderly lady because she over heard me say “our government is the most filthy organization ever to exist” and only because she was so sincere did I refrain from giving her a tongue lashing for being so stupid. She really thought she was being patriotic! Dear reader, there’s not one living person in this world who loves what America is supposed to be more than I do, and that’s why I rant so crudely to all who will listen. If you don’t get involved in the Internet Revolution, and the inevitable civil war breaks out, who is going to protect you? If you continue to play Ostrich, you will get your ass shot off. This incomprehensible evil that is masquerading as our government must be re-subjected to the will of the people, and obey the laws we pay them to write for our safety, happiness and prosperity.
Tyrants do not provide protection to the weak, they kill them!