Peter Sperry

I am more afraid of the massive overreaction to these events than the events themselves. We have become a very fearful society, willing to allow our “protectors” to restrict basic freedoms and impose limitiations in the name of security that previous generations would have found intolerable.

As a young child, my family moved to Washington in 1965. Severe riots had recently turned much of the 12th and 14th street corridors into burnt out shells (some of the damage still remains). There were deadly riots in major cities literally every summer. The 82nd Airborne was deployed to Detroit to control riots and Newark NJ was more or less burnt to the ground before the army went in. Walking outside at night in many urban neighborhoods was risky during the daytime and suicidal at night. SDS (Students for Democratic Society) terrorists planted bombs, and other groups openly shot the “pigs” (police officers for you millenials). JFK, RFK and MLK were assasinated in the space of 5 years. And there was also the constant threat of a world ending thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union.Those were truely dangerous times.

But few people panicked the way they do today. The streets of Washington were open and welcoming rather than resembling an armed police state. People could drive down the streets between the White House and Treasury or Old EOP. People could freely enter any federal building, mostly to eat at the Hot Shops in the basement. The capital was open 24/7 and largely unguarded. The shopping mall in the Pentagon was a great place to grab a snack between buses. Travelers could get out of a cab at the entrence to the airport and board their plane 5 minutes later simply by walking unhindered to the gate. Law enforcement’s response to the ongoing violence was to focus on catching, prosocuting and incarcerating the perpetrators while imposing as little burden as possible on the average person just going about their daily business.

The situation today is 180 degrees reversed. The number of actual terrorist attacks is actually quite low compared to the 60s and the last major riot was 21 years ago in LA. The vast majority of urban neighborhoods are reasonably safe at night and very few are dangerous during the daytime. Yes there are bad people doing bad things; but compared to the 60s, we mostly coexist peacfully.

But look at how law enforcement and the public overereact to the small number of incidents that do occur. Daily life in downtown DC today farily closely resembles the descriptions we used to read of East Berlin, Moscow and Peking. The last time I flew out of Dullus, I allowed 60 minutes to get through security and only cut it that close because I had no checked baggage. The gate area was patrolled by an armed policeman carrying a “spray and pray” short barreled assault rifle which would, if ever used, pose more danger to the civillians in a crowded airport than to any potential attackers. Government buildings resemble armed fortresses in which the public we serve is completely unwelcome. We have become the society George Orwal warned us to avoid.

I am not niave and recognize the danger posed by terrorists. But I have also seen central DC brought to complete gridlock by empty cardboard boxes left on the sidewalk. At least four times in the past three years. This is not rational security. It is mindless paranoia.

We need to identify the terrorists, find and capture them, try them fairly in an open court of law, confict them, allow them one and only one appeal, stick a needle in their arm, execute them and be done with them. Next we need to get back to leading normal lifes. Yes, there will be another incident and one after that and on and on. They are an unfortunate part of the human condition and have been since barbarian tribes first raided Sumarian cities. But locking ourselves in some sort of supermax security state and cowering in fear is not the right answer.