Stars, Spangles And Lots Of Security At Boston's July 4 Events

Jul 4, 2013
Originally published on July 4, 2013 11:43 am

The Fourth of July show will go on as usual tonight in Boston. For the 40th year in a row, the Boston Pops will perform along the banks of the Charles River as fireworks burst overhead.

But the scene and the mood will be different, with heavy security measures in the wake of the recent Boston Marathon bombings. It's in the back of many people's minds that the July 4 celebration was apparently the original target until, police say, the bombers decided to attack the race instead.

Half a million people are expected to turn out to celebrate the holiday, and authorities are taking no chances.

Boston native Jill Ammerman showed up to claim her usual spot along the Charles only to find it blocked off by barricades as a slew of police officers milled around.

"Last year, we were able to sit on the grass over there," she says. "This year, they're gonna keep us across the street."

T.C. Jones has traveled from Virginia to the Boston Esplanade concert for the past 20 years. He says he, too, was surprised by the heavy police presence — even on Wednesday.

"You saw state police, you saw feds, you saw the [National] Guard, you saw dive teams, park police — I mean, everybody and his brother," Jones says. "So I think it's terrible. It puts a little damper on things, but I can't say as I really have a better solution."

Police call it common sense. They say they've "exponentially" increased the number of on-site surveillance cameras, and they've put up barricades allowing only three checkpoints into the concert area. And they have set up a special text tip line specifically for the event.

Boston police Chief Ed Davis says there's no specific threat to the festivities, but security nonetheless must be tightened.

"We have a threat that manifested itself on April 15, and we're going to take that to heart," Davis says. "We don't want to be intrusive, but as the threat evolves, our response has to evolve."

That means people will need to adjust their picnic plans, big-time: No more big coolers on wheels will be allowed, no more backpacks, no more cans or big jugs of cocktails — only clear liquids in clear bottles, and food in clear bags.

Sue Zinger found out about the new rules the hard way when she showed up for Wednesday's pre-concert festivities with her cooler, drinks and big bags crammed with lunch and dinner.

"We're not gonna be able to get in," she says. "We have a number of items that don't meet the eligibility to get in. That's a new cooler we bought this morning — we switched everything and we threw the old cooler out, and even this cooler isn't acceptable."

Still, Zinger, like many others Wednesday, was more than willing to put up with the inconvenience. "It's the way of the world really," she says.

Many passers-by said they were comforted by the heavy police presence, though some found it a little unsettling.

"It makes you think back to the incidents over the marathon," says Boston College student Mirko Kruse. It's a sobering reminder, in the midst of the "glory of the fireworks," he says. "But I wouldn't call it a total buzz kill. It's still the Fourth of July, and you just have to celebrate it."

Indeed, many showing up yesterday for the celebration said it was even more important this year. "It's our holiday and our nation, and we're not going to let anyone scare us away," says 66-year-old Mary Ann Rollings. She and her friends 71-year-old Gloria Kelley and 64-year-old Linda Lee Stacy came to the esplanade decked out in their usual red, white and blue T-shirts, knee socks, wigs, hats and sunglasses looking for their regular spot.

It was jarring, they say, to see so many new restrictions on a holiday celebrating American freedom.

But Rollings says, "You know what? Freedom isn't free. And our soldiers are over there sacrificing their lives for us, so we can do a little bit of sacrifice ourselves by not bringing as much paraphernalia that we don't need."

Authorities say to expect this level of security to be the norm. The many new cameras installed on the esplanade are portable — and no one should be surprised to see them at other big events, such as football games this fall or the Boston Marathon next spring.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Boston, this year has been anything but routine after the tragic bombing at the marathon and the chaotic manhunt that all but shut the city down. But tonight, the show will go on. For the 40th year, the Boston Pops will carry on their July 4th tradition performing along the Charles River, as fireworks burst overhead. There will be heavy security, and while the music and fireworks will be familiar - in a way, even reassuring - the scene and mood are different this year.

Here's NPR's Tovia Smith.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It's in the back of many people's minds that today's Fourth of July celebration was apparently the original target, before police say the Boston Bombers decided to attack the marathon instead.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

SMITH: With a half-a-million people expected at today's festivities, authorities are taking no chances.

JILL AMMERMAN: Could we go sit over there in the shade, and just sit there?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You can't sit over there, ma'am. That's all closed off. It's all a secured area.

SMITH: Jill Ammerman from Boston showed up to find a slew police and barricades, keeping her from her usual spot along the river.

AMMERMAN: Last year, we were able to sit on the grass over there. This year, they're going to keep you across the street.

TC JONES: Major, major, major difference.

SMITH: TC Jones, who's come to the Boston Esplanade concert from Virginia for 20 years, was also surprised by the heavy police presence, even yesterday.

JONES: You saw state police. You saw feds. You saw the Guard. You saw a dive teams, park police - I mean, everybody and his brother. So I think terrible. You know, it puts a little damper on things. But I can't say as I really have a better solution.

SMITH: Police call it common sense. They've increased the number of surveillance cameras on site, quote, "exponentially." And they've put up barricades, allowing only three checkpoints in to the concert area.

Boston Police Chief Ed Davis says there is no specific threat to the celebration, but security must be tightened.

CHIEF ED DAVIS: We have a threat that manifested itself on April 15th, and we're going to take that to heart. And we don't want to be intrusive. But, I mean, as the threat evolves, our response has to evolve.

SMITH: That means adjusting picnic plans big time. No more big coolers on wheels, no more backpacks, no more cans, or big jugs of cocktails, only clear liquids in clear bottles and food in clear bags.

SUE ZINGER: We're not going to be able to get in.

SMITH: Sue Zinger showed up at the river for yesterday's pre-concert festivities with her usual: coolers, drinks and big bags full of lunch and dinner.

ZINGER: We have a number of items that don't meet the eligibility to get in.

SMITH: Could you ditch the cooler?

ZINGER: We did already. That's a new cooler we bought this morning.

(LAUGHTER)

ZINGER: We switched everything, and we threw the old cooler out. And then even this cooler isn't acceptable.

SMITH: If the extra security is inconvenient, it can also be both comforting and unsettling. Boston College student Mirko Kruse finds it a sobering reminder in the midst of all the festivities.

MIRKO KRUSE: You have glory of the fireworks, and then you have police. You have all this security. And it makes you think back to incidents of the marathon, but I wouldn't call it a total buzz-kill. It's still the Fourth of July, and you just have to celebrate it.

MARY ANN ROLLINGS: Come on it. Yeah.

GLORIA KELLEY: Fun, fun, fun in Boston.

LINDA LEE STACEY: Happy Birthday, America.

SMITH: Indeed, Mary Ann Rollings, Gloria Kelley and Linda Lee Stacey - all in their 60s and 70s - came to the Esplanade decked out in their usual red, white and blue T-shirts, knee socks, wigs, hats and glasses, looking for their regular spot.

ROLLINGS: One of those trees is mine.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINGS: Got my name on it, seriously.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINGS: I come back at 6:30 in the morning to do that spot.

SMITH: Anything for their beloved Boston Pops and its beloved conductor.

ROLLINGS: Ooh, yeah. Yes, he is.

KELLEY: Keith Lockhart, oh my.

STACEY: Nice.

KELLEY: That's her boyfriend.

STACEY: Nice.

ROLLINGS: He's my boyfriend.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINGS: Amen to that.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: It is sad, they say, to see so many new restrictions on the national holiday celebrating American freedom. But, says Rollings...

ROLLINGS: You know what? Freedom isn't free.

KELLEY: That's right.

ROLLINGS: And our soldiers are over there sacrificing their lives for us. So we can do a little sacrificing ourselves by not bringing as much paraphernalia that we don't need.

SMITH: Authorities say expect this to be the norm. The many new cameras installed on the Esplanade are portable, and no one should be surprised to see them at the next big event: a football game this fall or the Boston Marathon next spring.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Have a wonderful Fourth of July. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.