(Editor's note: This essay is a response to this commentary.)
The scene in Boston on April 18 and 19 was awesome.
By that, I don't mean it was cool. Rather, the mass law-enforcement action to shut down the city and search for the brothers Tsarnaev was "awesome" in the dictionary sense of "awe": "dread ... and wonder that is inspired by authority."
In his commentary in the May 2 issue of the River Cities' Reader, John W. Whitehead announces that the situation showed that "the police state has arrived." Certainly, anybody who's doubted warnings about the police state should have been struck by the swiftness, scope, coordination, and force of law-enforcement actions those two days following the bombs that exploded at the April 15 Boston Marathon. Even though television viewers didn't see much beyond reporters breathlessly saying that something was happening, it was readily apparent that the combined resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement are a fearsome instrument that can be unleashed quickly and without regard for rights.
So if you have the misfortune of seeing your picture above "Suspect Number 1" or "Suspect Number 2" on TV, I hope you did something truly evil, as this is the man- and firepower you'll face. And if you decline to let police search your home in a scenario similar to what happened in Boston, good luck.
But this was not a "police state" as most people think of it - a brutal, proactively oppressive regime. It would be more accurate to say that the Boston metro area on April 18 and 19 was a vivid demonstration of our potential for a police state through a single, short-lived, but widespread instance of de facto martial law.
Yet it was also a visible reminder of a more persistent underlying condition: the security state that has been built steadily in the United States since September 11, 2001. It's ostensibly designed to prevent terrorist attacks, but it proved last month that it's much more adept at responding to them.
Boston showed what our police state could look like. Now we need to decide whether it's what we want.