Cops’ Military Tools Aren’t Just for Catching Terrorists

above: A SWAT tank parked in the Boston Commons on April 16, 2013. Photo via Flickr user Vjeran Pavic

On April 19, a million Bostonians stayed locked down in their homes while 9,000 cops combed the metro area for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the marathon bombing. In Watertown, cops went door-to-door and removed homeowners at gunpoint before searching their houses. Tsarnaev was found in that town around 8 PM by the owner of the boat sitting in his backyard that the 19-year-old suspected terrorist had chosen as his hiding place.

The lockdown was something new. Not serial killers, not cop-killing cop Christopher Dorner’s LA rampage, not even 9/11 shut down a city like this. Still, Bostonians seemed fine with staying inside for the most part. Cops found their guy relatively quickly, and the city partied in the streets afterwards. During the manhunt, a tough-looking officer even brought two gallons of milk to a family with young children, serving as a perfect meme to refute any accusations of jackbooted thuggery. Even some normally anti-police libertarians urged restraint in reacting to the manhunt.

What shouldn’t go unmentioned, however, is that while the circumstances were unique, the military muscle displayed by law enforcement is hardly reserved for responding to rare acts of terrorism. Videos from the lockdown—particularly this piece of paranoia-porn, in which a SWAT team orders a family out of their home at gunpoint and one of the officers screams “get away from the window!” at the videographer—either look frightening or grimly necessary, according to your views. But haven’t we seen displays like this before?