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Posted on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm

By now you’ve probably seen this YouTube video showing a platoon of military-garbed police in Watertown, Mass., ordering citizens out of a house at gunpoint while looking for the surviving Boston Marathon bomber. For the past few days I’ve been trying to make sense of that video.

If, as some online commenters are claiming, the example in the video is typical of how tens of thousands of innocent citizens were treated in the so-called “lockdown” of Watertown, then the United States has indeed turned into a police state. The Fourth Amendment means nothing if military-style police can essentially hold an entire town hostage, treat them all like dangerous criminals and search their houses without a warrant–all on the suspicion that one dangerous criminal might be inside one of them. If how the residents of that house were treated is typical of the whole search, then Americans have essentially lost our constitutional rights.

But I’m not convinced. I’ve read counter-examples from those claiming to be in Watertown who said police at their doors were respectful and that searches were truly voluntary. So the jury is still out, and I won’t allow myself to get worked up by fear mongers trying to push an anti-government narrative for whatever reason.

I wasn’t quite so discerning in 1990. At the the Society of Professional Journalists national convention we heard from a woman claiming to have witnessed Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait, which Iraq had recently invaded. Her testimony was so moving that I rushed back to the Farragut Press-Enterprise and wrote an editorial urging the U.S. to intervene militarily in Kuwait. To this day I don’t know whether or not that woman was sincere. But I know I got played.

So let’s remember what happened at Watertown and keep our eyes open to how events unfold in the future. Let’s hope and pray the fear mongers are wrong.