In March of 1977 a group of Hanafi Muslims got the attention of the world after taking over three buildings in Washington, DC, killing two men, wounding another, and holding hostages for 39 hours. They forced one of the hostages to contact a local radio station and relay their demands. It is just one of many examples where hostage takers, or those barricaded and surrounded by law enforcement, have attempted to get their message broadcast by radio and TV stations and printed in newspapers.
What happened in Baltimore last night is an important reminder that this whole concept of message transmission during such a standoff has changed. It’s another example of how the Internet and social media have greatly impacted the world of public safety. As we have often talked about here and in talks around the country, for better or worse, you no longer need to own a radio or TV transmitter or a printing press to reach the public. Those tools are in the hands of everyone.
A few years ago I predicted it wouldn’t be long before we would see video of a rescue at a fire shot and posted to YouTube by both the rescuer and rescuee. What James MacArthur did last night may be the law enforcement equivilent.
MacArthur, the publisher of the blog The Baltimore Spectator, had his home surrounded by a Baltimore City Police Department tactical unit serving an arrest warrant on a 2009 gun case. MacArthur broadcast live via Internet radio the negotiations to surrender with Lt. Jason Yerg who was attempting to get the blogger to come out of his house peacefully. The recording of that more than two hour conversation can be found here.
Police said Frank James MacArthur, 47, emerged late Saturday evening after having remained inside his home when officers sought to serve a warrant issued in June by his probation agent stemming from a 2009 gun case. Authorities said MacArthur had missed a court date.
With a tactical unit outside, MacArthur broadcast his talks with a police negotiator on The Baltimore Spectator website. He expressed frustration about his treatment by police, telling listeners, “I am surrounded by a bunch of men with guns.”
According to electronic court records, MacArthur was wanted for violation of probation regarding gun charges filed in 2009. Police went to his address in the 400 block of McKewin Avenue to take him into custody. When he refused to answer the door, a standoff ensued.
Eventually a police SWAT team was called to the scene because of police concerns about messages posted to MacArthur’s Twitter account during the past few days.
“What we’re seeing going on is an abuse of SWAT. I’m seeing that the Baltimore Police Department … that because of something said on Twitter allegedly, we so quickly end up with a SWAT situation. This is highly disturbing to me as a citizen of this town. That it’s so easy to get a SWAT deployment,” MacArthur said.