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MBTA’s giant bus, the Civil Disturbance Unit, appears at anti-NDAA demo today

The 80 or so people who marched today from the former Occupy Boston site at Dewey square to the JFK federal building in opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act were surprised to see this giant monstrosity pull up briefly in front of the demo:

A little bit of history on this bus. A November 2007 Boston Globe article (behind a paywall) was the first to report on the MBTA's fancy surveillance rig. The paper wrote:

The large, jet-black bus has four surveillance cameras on its roof trained in every direction, and looks like the kind of tool an authoritarian regime might use to scare or scoop up dissidents and other malcontents…This new MBTA bus, unlike other vehicles in its fleet, was designed to intimidate. It is a roving command post, a 13-year-old passenger bus refitted for $100,000 to transport one of the transit police department's newest outfits, its Civil Disturbance Unit.

The Globe also reported that the bus is outfitted with "about $20,000 of new body armor, shields, and an arsenal of tear gas and pepper-spray grenades." The "elite" MBTA police unit was trained for a week by DHS at their facility in Alabama, where they "studied the history, causes, and types of riots, as well as the laws and strategies for dealing with urban unrest."

The police boasted that the training helped to prepare MBTA police for protester lockdowns. Now they now how to cut through PVC piping and chains. 

The bus might seem a little bit overkill, but that's precisely the point. The unit's commander in 2007 told the Globe:

We want to serve as a deterrent…When people see us, we want them to know that we're prepared, trained, and ready to go.

So did they drive the bus past the anti-NDAA protest to send us a message? If so, that's awfully chilling and hostile in the face of a completely non-violent demonstration.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.