21st Century Viking: What Would Joseph Coolidge Say?

Photo by Kristin Jones (CC/Flickr)

My latest article for the Ballard News-Tribune was published a few hours after I posted the second part of my watertown_4.19.13 series. I submitted the editorial under a different title but it turned out that both the post and the editorial for the Ballard News-Tribune were given the same name.

They are, however, different pieces.

The Ballard News-Tribune article is a little shorter, gives a bit more background on Watertown and ask the reader to imagine a similar scenario unfolding in Ballard.

The blog post is longer and goes more into depth in some areas, particularly with Joseph Coolidge.

Both pieces, however, invoke the name of Joseph Coolidge and his importance to Watertown and American history as the starting point of my discussion. I have a feeling that the Spirit of Joseph Coolidge will continue to be invoked as the watertown_4.19.13 project evolves.

Watertown_4.19.13, Part II: What Would Joseph Coolidge Say?

Image of Joseph Coolidge’s grave, Old Burying Ground, Watertown, MA. Image from watertown.patch.com.
I will upload my own photo of this soon. -Brian

On April 19th, 1775, Joseph Coolidge of Watertown, MA died at the Battle of Lexington. According to an account by one of his descendants, Austin J. Coolidge:
“When the alarm came on April 19, 1775, he is said to have unyoked his team from the plow, told his wife where he had buried the town’s money, taken his gun and powder horn, and joined a dozen or so Minute Men from Needham, guiding them to Lexington. He fell, mortally wounded, near the lower part of Lexington, his body pierced by three British bullets.”
(From the website of the Joseph Coolidge (Watertown) Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution)

Joseph Coolidge was not only a resident of the East End, he was a Minuteman and a long-time patriot, as evidenced by the fact that he was one of the participants in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.

On April 19th, 2013, 238 years later, brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were confronted in the East End of Watertown, MA. Tamerlan was killed in the initial confrontation with police and later that day Dzhokar was found hiding in a boat about six blocks away from the scene and arrested. In the meantime, the East End of Watertown was put on lockdown and all the streets within a 20-block radius were subjected to an intense search by hundreds of police.

It took me a little bit longer to start writing about what happened in Watertown that day because these events were so personal to me. I grew up in the East End. The shootout and the hiding place of the suspect were all within a several block radius of where my parents live. My parents’ property was searched (but not their house), the property and house of the parents of my friend was thoroughly searched. There were many others in the neighborhood whose property and/or houses were searched as well.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

While some homeowners and residents were asked by police if they could conduct searches, videos such as this one have surfaced showing people being taken out of their homes at gunpoint:

Thankfully, the police managed to apprehend Tsarnaev alive and without anyone else being hurt. I have heard lots of commentators speak of their concern over whether Tsarnaev was read his Miranda rights. I am glad that he is being tried in a Federal court and not being treated as an enemy combatant. As an American, he is entitled to due process and to have his day in court.

There is another question that is just as, if not more important that needs to be respectfully asked: Were the Constitutional rights of the residents of the East End of Watertown violated during the manhunt for Dzokhar Tsarnaev?

After seeing the above video, ask yourself- was the police response proportional? Was it necessary for armed SWAT teams and Humvees to put the East End under lockdown, which looked very much to me like a temporary imposition of martial law? What was the legal reasoning that was used to justify the manhunt and these searches? As far as I know at the time I publish this, none of the residents of the houses were presented with a search warrant.

I used the phrase “respectfully ask” because I am balancing my desire to know with the reality that the police who searched the property kept my parents and the residents of the East End safe. The Boston Marathon bombings were a horrific crime and it saddens me to think of the people who died or were maimed as well as the officer who they killed. I am glad that at least one of them will stand trial and have to answer for the crimes they have been accused of, yet it is nearly overshadowed for me by how he was arrested.

As I write this on April 29th, 2013, the story is 10 days old. I refrained from writing much about it for the past few days because I wanted to really think on it instead of just reacting emotionally. It was a huge shock to see hundreds of police and the media of the world descend on the neighborhood I grew up in. After a few days, as the relief that my parents were safe and the shock of it all started to drain away a little, my thoughts kept turning to Joseph Coolidge.

Joseph Coolidge’s grave is marked by an obelisk in the center of the Old Burying Ground at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Arlington Streets. Watertown was founded in 1630 (the same year as Boston) and the cemetery dates from that time. For my Eagle Scout project, my fellow Boy Scouts in Troop 30 cleaned up the cemetery and I attempted to get it registered as a Historic Place.

Many of the police that responded to the call and the that reported on the events probably sped by the Old Burying Ground on their way into the East End. In addition, I am fairly certain that Tsarnaev’s ambulance passed by it as well on the way to the hospital. Joseph Coolidge died at the Battle of Lexington so that his fellow Americans would not have to live under tyranny. What would Joseph Coolidge have had to say if he saw what happened that day on the land that he died for?

Watertown_4.19.13, Part I

Police in front of Porcini's Restaurant, School St. looking towards Mt. Auburn St. 4/19/13

Police in front of Porcini’s Restaurant, School St. looking towards Mt. Auburn St. 4/19/13. Screenshot of WBZ Boston’s Live Coverage

The capture of one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombings (and the death of the other) has focused the attention of the world on the East End neighborhood of Watertown, Massachusetts. The gunfight in the early hours of Friday morning, April 19, 2013 and the capture of the suspect inside a boat occurred within a few blocks of the house that I grew up in and where my parents still live. It is my intention to use my subject matter expertise to report in depth on the Watertown part of the Boston Marathon Bombing story.

I will admit up front to not being a disinterested party- this is the neighborhood I grew up in, after all. The goal of this series of posts is to give you my perspective on what happened and find out the truth of what occurred. I have been thinking about this and reading articles from all different perspectives over the past week and it is time to enter the fray. Hopefully what I end up writing will be a positive contribution to the discussion.