We have a new euphemism for martial law, with an open-ended, shoot-to-kill curfew to enforce it: shelter in place. If the first instance ever of an American city placed under martial law had occurred on the west coast, I would probably not even know the diabolical insinuations associated with that phrase. As it is, next door to Boston, where police ordered all residents to shelter in place on April 19, four days after the Boston Marathon bombings. Armored vehicles, even tanks rolled through the streets of the city. Helicopters flew overhead. Thousands of armed military people swarmed over the city, in vehicles and on foot.
I don’t want to suggest that Governor Deval Patrick, or anyone else in authority, issued a written shoot-to-kill order before the April 19 metropolitan lockdown. When you have that many soldiers with guns drawn crawling around your neighborhood, you don’t need to communicate threats to civilians with written orders. In this atmosphere, you don’t step outside your front door, wave to the soldiers, and say, “Excuse me, I just wanted to step out to buy a quart of milk. Please won’t you put your guns down for a moment.” You stay inside, no matter how much you might need a quart of milk.
Thus the phrase shelter in place came into common use after the Boston melee early on Friday, when police tried to capture the Tsarnaev brothers four days after the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday, April 15. The whole operation, after the botched capture in the early morning, looked like a planned training exercise, which is exactly what it turned out to be. Most of the armed forces stood down at dinnertime, around 7:00 pm, two hours or more before police found Dzhokar Tsarnaev hidden in a boat in Watertown. No need to miss dinner with your family when your training is complete at the end of the day.
We see the phrase shelter in place more and more often. It gives police license to stop everyday life, to enter people’s houses, to take over a city or a college campus or any district to control people. Ostensibly, the purpose of this order is to protect people from terrorist attacks or other crimes. Actually, it gives police license, and freedom, to deploy to the streets in force, guns drawn, and to shoot at anything they like. This concept will not develop in helpful directions, no matter how many people say, “Thank you, police, for keeping us safe.” If you want to make people used to subjecting themselves to police control, you could not find a better concept, or a better euphemism.
Watch for more orders to shelter in place, imposed any time authorities want to send out SWAT teams or other militarized forces in response to any perceived public danger. Eventually, that danger will come to include people who gather to protest imposition of martial law. Before long, our government will proclaim that American citizens, not jihadists from overseas, present the primary danger to state security. We have already seen that with government’s response to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In city after city, government’s force-laden response to peaceful protest sprouted and grew. In Boston, intimidation for state security blossomed. Watch for more.