We Weren’t Locked Down

. . . here on Martha’s Vineyard. We’re a long way from Boston. But the way some of us were glued to our TVs, our computers, and/or our Twittering devices, we might as well have been.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Interesting phrase, “locked down.” When I heard it first, it applied to prisoners. When they were “locked down,” they were confined to their cells for security reasons. A lockdown was essentially punitive: y’all are being locked down because one or more of you is a threat.

Then schools got started getting locked down if someone phoned in a bomb threat or a student went nuts or someone was afraid that a student might go nuts. Then the whole city of Boston and the close-in suburbs got locked down.

“Lockdown” has several definitions in the Urban Dictionary. In most of them people with more power assert control over people with less.

One might say that Martha’s Vineyard is on lockdown whenever the boats aren’t running. This is usually due to high winds. The winds don’t cancel the boats, the Steamship Authority does, but we usually blame it on the weather. People with off-island appointments or planes to catch out of Logan are inconvenienced, but Vineyarders don’t freak out when the boats aren’t running. Summer people and recent arrivals, on the other hand, often lose their heads. They don’t realize they’re on an island till they can’t get off it.

In all the ILOVEBOSTON hyperbole someone was quoted as saying “they can’t take away our freedom.” I guffawed. I guess “they” was supposed to be terrorists, maybe the Tsarnaev brothers or maybe terrorists in general, but seriously, honey: you just stayed indoors for 12 hours because the authorities told you to, but “they” can’t take away your freedom?

All “they” have to do to take away your freedom is to tell you to stay indoors because there’s a “terrorist” on the loose. Or to take off your shoes at the airport because maybe someone wants to blow up the plane with a shoe bomb.

Writes John Cassidy in an excellent post to the New Yorker website: “Whenever the word ‘terrorist’ is mentioned in this country, reason tends to go out the window, and many other things go with it, too, such as intellectual consistency, a respect for civil liberties, and a sense of proportion.”


No terrorists were involved in the explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant two days after the Boston bombing. More people died and more were injured than in Boston, and as of yesterday some 60 were still unaccounted for.

Or, for that matter, in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia three years ago, or in the fire that ripped through a clothing factory in Dhaka last November, killing at least 117.

No terrorists, but almost certainly corner-cutting, willful negligence, and disregard for worker and neighborhood safety. None of which, it seems, is as scary as a fellow on the loose with bombs possibly strapped to his person.

Most people I know are desperately curious about what motivated the Tsarnaev brothers, if indeed they carried out the bombing they’re accused of. So am I. Why Boston? Why the marathon? The symbolism of the 9/11 targets wasn’t hard to grasp. The symbolism of 4/15 is more elusive.

But I’m also curious about what motivates the corner-cutters, and the guys who played games with bundled mortgages, and all the other (relatively) powerful people whose small acts of callousness and negligence add up to big catastrophe for other people they never even see.

syria bombing

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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9 Responses to We Weren’t Locked Down

  1. Terry Waggle says:

    I appreciate your take on “lock-down” but I think it was a wise choice by the authorities to safeguard the public, any one of whom could have been taken hostage or shot by the man the police were pursuing. As for the tragedies that are caused by greedy people in power, they need to be locked up! When we hear tear jerking stories by their wives that they’re having to give up one of their many homes procured by nefarious practices I want to throw up. This mouthed by a woman wearing a designer outfit worth more than some people’s yearly income. I saw the photos of West, TX after the explosion and it’s sobering to think that it was placed where it was. Were the city officials so eager to get the tax money that they over looked the inherent dangers? Lesson learned the hard way. Greed and the desire for power will take us down eventually.


  2. David S. says:

    Nine thousand local police, Feds and state law enforcement in a manhunt for one man does seem a bit much. Lockdowns in the Watertown area seemed appropriate considering the carnage these two young men were continuing to carry out. Stopping routes of escape by transportation was another smart thing to do. But to have citizens cooped up in their homes for an indefinite period, that were a safe distance from the action, appears to be knee-jerk overreach at its worse. Human nature breeds curiosity, and freedom requires well … freedom.

    Whether or not GWB overreacted to the events of 9/11 has and will be debated for many years to come. The fact remains that on that day a new kind of war was brought to our shores. One that was amorphous, foggy, and its soldiers wore no uniforms. A response by the US had to be unequivocal and immediate. The marathon bombings once again brought into stark relief the uncertainty of security in a free Nation. The current administration, unlike Bush, had decided, untill last Monday, that using the word terrorist was some kind of branding iron and would rather refer to terrorist acts as “workplace violence” or “overseas contingency operations.” Perhaps they felt using these terms would somehow make it go away. The saying “a rose is a rose is a rose …” can easily be adopted to “a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist.” You can’t explain away the facts, and they are that radical Islamists have been the perpetrators of these acts. Is it fair to consider all of the Muslim faith as potential terrorists? Of course not, But many don’t feel that way. Right or wrong this enemy’s motivations are based on anti-American sentiment fueled by religious extremism. Like it or not we as a Nation have to deal with it, and it isn’t always going to be tidy and out of sight.


    • Good points, but I think we’re locking ourselves into too narrow a definition of “terrorist.” Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist. Anders Breivik was a terrorist. Factions of the IRA and the UDA carried out plenty of terrorism in Northern Ireland. The racial caste system in the U.S. South was kept in place for decades by terrorism — and plenty of those terrorists were public officials. Europe’s colonial empires were enforced partly by terrorism. Soviet Russia’s ditto. It’s self-serving (to say the least) for governments to define terrorism as something not committed by governments, and for any Christian to claim that terrorism is distinctively Islamic.

      For many of us 9/11 didn’t bring “a new kind of war to our shores.” It was more like a new aspect of a war we were already familiar with. Every woman who’s ever thought twice about going out alone is familiar with it, whether we call it terrorism or not. One of my first thoughts after 9/11 was “chickens come home to roost.” The United States has taken war to various shores around the world, and seen from those shores its actions might look like those of a terrorist, or at least a bully. Christianity its own bloody history. How do these histories look from the other end of the telescope, from the perspective of the victims rather than the perpetrators?

      Put another way: If we in the U.S. had been subjected to these things and decided to fight back by fair means or foul, would we call what we were doing “terrorism”?


  3. Sara Piazza says:

    Lock down is just a fancy way of saying martial law. Remember when we were hippies at Woodstock and stuff like this bothered us and we fought power and bureaucracy? What happened? Am I the only one who is more than mildly concerned about how quickly martial law was enacted in Boston? And I betcha more than one good Boston folk while hiding in his closet was wishing he had a gun handy.


    • I’m more than mildly concerned. Concerned, too, that some people react with hostility to mere suggestion that we should be concerned. I’m sure some people did wish they had a gun handy. Security blankets come in all shapes and sizes. 😉 The idea of freaked-out citizens peering out the windows with fingers on triggers is pretty scary. I bet “the authorities” are glad they didn’t have to deal with it.


  4. tompostpile says:

    From a morning’s curmudgeonly moment….The correct newspeak for “lockdown” is “shelter in place”. “Shelter in Place” is going to be a very convenient “security state” tool in the future, as term you will hear more and more often during “emergencies” as the bureaucracy and those in power find us peons less and less convenient to have to deal with.


    • And oh-so-amenable to letting “the authorities” define what’s an emergency. Yikes. Remember back in 2010 when island emergency services — one honcho in particular — wanted to shut island businesses down pending the arrival of Hurricane Earl? The grumbling and resistance was encouraging, but I can’t help wondering what would have happened had the “T”-word been involved.


  5. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Thank you for your potent words.


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