Independence Day celebrations will be going on all over the nation on Thursday, but there are some who won’t have time to enjoy it. They’re public safety officials — law enforcement, firefighters, emergency technicians — who’ll be on alert.
This is true any time there is a significant gathering of people. Compress a lot of folks into a given area, and the opportunity and likelihood that something might happen increases. The concern is more so this Independence Day holiday, however, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings in April.
In Atlanta, city officials announced some steps that will be taken Thursday with the annual Peachtree Road Race, which likely will be conducted in rainy conditions if forecasts hold up. In addition to the Boston killings, Atlanta has experience with what can happen. Alice Hawthorne, of Albany, was killed in Centennial Park in 1996 when Eric Rudolph set off a pipe bomb during the Olympics.
On Tuesday, Atlanta officials said that parts of Piedmont Park, the end of the Peachtree race course, will have restricted areas for the first time. Backpacks will be discouraged, and anyone with one is subject to having it searched by authorities. Police say that all parts of the race will be covered by cameras and that the full police force will be working.
Atlanta officials also are asking participants in this year’s race to wear blue and yellow in honor of the victims of the Boston bombing, who will be remembered with a moment of silence immediately before the race starts.
Other U.S. cities will also be maintaining a higher level of security this year. There’s a good reason for that. Those who conduct these types of vicious attacks on U.S. citizens tend to look for significant days when as many people as possible are in a densely packed area to maximize deaths, injuries and publicity. It’s hard to think of a date that would be more symbolic than Independence Day.
Officials say, in fact, that the two brothers accused of carrying out the pipe-bomb attack at the marathon — Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is awaiting a trial in which prosecutors may seek the death penalty — had planned to deploy the bombs they made with fireworks-grade gunpowder, pressure cookers and shrapnel on the Fourth of July. Authorities say they moved up their schedule when they got the devices put together sooner than they had anticipated.
On Thursday, Boston, one of the focal points of American independence, usually attracts as many as a half-million people to the city’s waterfront area for music and a fireworks display. New York City is planning to step up its security and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is as well.
It’s unfortunate that measures such as these have to be taken to protect citizens who should have the right to celebrate our nation’s birth without fear of attack, but they also bring to mind another fact about liberty. To maintain liberty, we have to maintain a high level of vigilance. And in an age when our enemies have grown brazen in their attempts to steal our freedoms from us through violent acts, it’s incumbent upon all of us to be alert.