Boston Frees the Mooninite Two

It now appears that Boston will be dropping charges against the two people who hung the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Mooninite signs around the city. It’s about time. [UPDATE: As Vika points out in the comments, MSNBC jumped the gun. At this point charges against Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens are still pending. Sigh.]

Look, here’s the thing. The initial Boston response makes sense: you find something suspicious, so you shut things down until you have a chance to assess. It’s the follow-on response that was farcical. The police blew up one of the lite-bright-like signs yet couldn’t tell from the debris that it wasn’t a bomb. They couldn’t tell from looking at an intact sign that it wasn’t a bomb.

Mooninite sign

I’m not sure exactly where they thought the C4 was, or where the detonation electronics were. IEDs just don’t look like these signs.

Breathless news speculation on the part of Fox News and other news organizations fueled hysteria. Turner Broadcasting, the people ultimately responsible for the marketing ploy, didn’t contact the Boston PD for some four hours, likely because their lawyers needed time to stare wide-eyed at the TV and say, “Holy crap, no other city went bat-shit insane over this — what do we do?” But even after Turner did fax in the location of all the signs, Boston officials didn’t respond like they should have. Instead of dismissing the over-reaction with a statement like, “This was a threat we took seriously and we’re glad that the devices turned out merely to be harmless signs,” politicians and police chiefs ratcheted up the rhetoric.

They found the two people responsible for placing the signs, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, and charged them with one count of placing a hoax device and one count of disorderly conduct. It’s the “hoax” part that drives me crazy. It’s clear to anyone with a lick of sense that these do not look like bombs, they were not intended to look like bombs, and they were not deployed in a manner to indicate that they were bombs. That hasn’t stopped dumber members of the press from saying things like, “Hey [defendant Peter Berdovsky] Borat, you’re not a citizen? That’s too bad. How does five years at Cedar Junction sound, followed by a steerage-class flight back to the Third World hellhole from which you came, to annoy the taxpaying citizens?” Never mind that the case against Berdovsky and Stevens was obviously going to go nowhere from the start. Even the judge wasn’t buying the state’s case. I can’t blame the two for talking about 1970s hairstyles in their post-arraignment press conference, as bad a PR move as it was.

This isn’t the first time Boston has over-reacted to the sight of wires. As the Nielsen Haydens point out, Boston PD arrested a non-violent protester named Joe Previtera for dressing up like the prisoner in the infamous Abu Ghraib picture, complete with wires. Boston PD tried to charge him with making a false bomb threat.

You know, other cities like Seattle and New York City (New York City!) didn’t over-react to the Mooninite signs. Perhaps Boston can use the $1M that Turner Broadcasting is reportedly in negotiation to pay to buy several pallets of common sense. We’ll just need to make sure the pallets don’t have batteries or wires on them.