In his first act as governor, Andrew Cuomo Saturday symbolically moved toward his promise to open up government to the people.
Crews were busy at work removing concrete barriers erected in front of the state Capitol under then Gov. George Pataki following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Do concrete barriers have some use? Sure. They may be useful in preventing a car bomb from getting close enough to a building to envelop it in the bomb's effective blast radius. Other than than, they're potential shrapnel.
But we put them up anyway. We put up concrete barriers in front of the old federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles after Oklahoma City, and they've been there ever since, even though all they do is prevent a van from hopping the curb and getting 10 or 15 feet closer to the courthouse before it blows. They've been sitting there getting progressively dingier for the last 15 years.
Might a concrete barrier result in a building being heavily damaged rather than destroyed, and save some lives — in the building, if not on the street? Perhaps. I'd like to see the science behind it, which probably isn't going to happen. But unless we start putting up concrete barriers everywhere, to keep trucks far away from tree lightings and tourist traps, they're not going to prevent terrorists from killing people.
Concrete barriers are security theater. They are there to convey two messages to us: (1) Your Government is On The Job Protecting You, and (2) You Are In Danger, So Accept Government Control Accordingly. They are not as intrusive as some security state measures. But let's not mistake them for a real plan, and let's be skeptical of their message.
It would be nice to think that a governor recognized that. But taking them down is probably just theater, too. Cuomo might surprise me, but I doubt he — or 95% of other modern politicians — are going to undertake a serious evaluation of which elements of the security state are actually effective, necessary, or worth the liberty they erode.
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