This Week: A Series On Police, Protest And Militarism In Boston

Boston Massacre
Boston Massacre

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 -- on in the 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.

Radley Balko is author of the forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.