robot cop

The reality of San Francisco police making use of remote-controlled lethally armed robots as part of their arsenal is no longer the stuff of science fiction. An amendment to the Administrative Code in deploying such a force received an earlier 8-3 vote in its favor after a first reading resulting in a swift backlash by concerned citizens.

The issue of “Killer Robots” carrying explosives when being deployed in San Francisco is of such abundant concern that activists and citizens alike from across the Bay Area demonstrated on the steps of City Hall here today against that very prospect becoming a reality. Police have indicated that such a device would only be used in “extreme circumstances” but alas no one is fooled by the possibility of the technology straying away from its intended use.

Addressing the issue, members from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1021, Arab Resource Organizing Center (AROC) and SF Black Wall Street along with three of the eleven SF Supervisors all spoke against the police having such lethal weapons at their disposal and demanded that the supervisors vote against the ordinance during the second and final reading at tomorrow’s board meeting.

Supervisors can vote any way they wish including changing their vote. Hopefully the ordinance will not pass after the public outcry it has generated. Barring that, due to technical violations in its presentation by the SFPD, it is possible that the amendment could be sent back to the committee to comply with the required 30-day public comment period that was not undertaken according to law.

Calling the deployment of killer police robots “unacceptable,” Supervisor Dean Preston called the policy both “dangerous and reckless.” He further noted that “We know that deadly force by the police department is disproportionately used against Black and Brown communities in San Francisco and this kind of technology is no exception.” He promised that if the policy passed, he would fight to see that it becomes a ballot measure so that the people of San Francisco could have the final say in the matter.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen called the proposal “extremely dangerous policy” thrust hurriedly upon the Board of Supervisors noting that even the robotics industry “is very skeptical and the majority is against the use of robots that could be armed and kill human beings.” She argued that the ordinance should not go forward calling the policy “ridiculous.”

President of the Board of Supervisors Shamann Walton reminded everyone that “when you give police departments more weapons to be used in communities, we know disproportionally that those weapons will be used against people of color.” He called into question how these machines could be hacked or taken over by people to do harm to communities and that the policy has no place in San Francisco or in any local law enforcement agency. “These types of machines were really designed to fight wars.” Shamann closed by promising to fight the ordinance to see that it is never implemented.

Warning of the possible dangers that spillover from the normalization of killer robot deployment could inflict, Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst at the EFF, noted historically that “It took teargas only about a decade from being a universally condemned weapon of war to being used as a means to break up protests here in the United States.”

The issue of the right to due process under the Sixth Amendment being violated by remote Robo Cop killings was addressed by a spokesperson from SF Black Wall Street who observed that “When you arm lethal robots to kill, you are doing capital punishment without due process.”

Lead Organizer Sharif Zakout of AROC noted that “Arab Americans have been historically targeted by SFPD surveillance and policing policies. San Francisco has made the reckless decision of setting a dangerous precedent for the Bay Area and the rest of the country. This follows the dangerous pattern of using militarization as a solution of everyday problems.” He added that as citizens, “We are not enemy combatants to be made war upon.”

Report and photo by Phil Pasquini

(This article has previously appeared in Nuzeink.)

Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and Nuze.ink. He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.


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