Tactor man

Police officers in Washington, D.C., have increased their patrols while missile batteries surround the city in case of a terrorist attack. Airspace around Washington is restricted while radars scan the sky for trouble. It’s all part of the country’s heightened state of alert.

Through all this, one man driving a jeep with a John Deere tractor in tow was able to advance under the radar into a shallow pond between the Washington Monument and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Dwight Watson, 50, a disgruntled tobacco farmer from North Carolina, kept law enforcement at bay for two days as he drove his tractor back-and-forth in the pond protesting U.S. agricultural policies. Streets were closed off as SWAT teams and helicopters kept an eye on Watson.

Watson’s protest came at a bad time for those living and working in the metropolitan area. Many have grown weary of terror threats, protests and crime sprees such as the sniper and anthrax attacks.

The main question during the entire tractor protest centered on how our homeland defense forces could allow one man on a tractor to close off a small section of the nation’s capital?

Despite criticism, law enforcement officers handled the situation with proper care. They didn’t have much of a choice.

There was a similar incident 20 years ago when a man claiming to have a van full of dynamite held police at bay at the Washington Monument. It wasn’t until he began driving toward the White House that police opened fire, killing him. Every emergency can end in tragedy.

The tractor incident, while embarrassing as it dragged on, could also have ended badly. Law enforcement officials are always wary of the ease which agricultural products, such as ammonium nitrate, can be converted into high explosives. Timothy McVeigh taught us that.

As long as Watson was wallowing around in the pond, he was not a direct threat. You just can’t shoot a man for driving his tractor in an ornamental pond even if he is holding up traffic. While Watson certainly could have picked a better time and method of protest, police had no choice but to wait him out.

In the end, critics will always say : what if?

We’re sure if terrorists ever found a way to use farm machinery to carry out terrorism, they would do it. The problem with homeland security in a free society, however, is that much of our safety depends on trusting everyone else. This includes strangers on the street or co-workers in the office. We all must watch out for terrorists while trusting those who walk among us.

Washington, D.C., is our nation’s capital and an open city. It’s open to the people who pay the taxes and petition the government. It needs to stay that way. Yes, we want to keep it safe, but no plan is foolproof.

Sometimes this openness leaves our cities vulnerable to the likes of Dwight Watson. It’s one of those risks of freedom.

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