FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police

As in many cities around the country, Black Lives Matter held a demonstration in Dallas to protest the police shootings of two more black men, Alton Sterling of Louisiana and Philando Castile of Minnesota. During the demonstration, Micah Xavier Johnson, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, mounted his own personal, deadly protest by shooting police officers guarding the nonviolent rally. Five officers were killed and seven wounded.

After negotiating for some time with Johnson, who was holed up in a community college parking garage, police sent in a robot armed with explosives and killed him. Dallas police chief David Brown said, “We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the subject was,” adding, “Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger.”

The legal question is whether the officers reasonably believed Johnson posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury to them at the time they deployed the robot to kill him.
Johnson was apparently isolated in the garage, posing no immediate threat. If the officers could attach explosives to the robot, they could have affixed a tear gas canister to the robot instead, to force Johnson out of the garage. Indeed, police in Albuquerque used a robot in 2014 to “deploy chemical munitions,” which compelled the surrender of an armed suspect barricaded in a motel room.

But the Dallas police chose to execute Johnson with their killer robot. This was an unlawful use of force and a violation of due process.

The right to due process is a bedrock guarantee, not just in the U.S. Constitution, but also in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty we have ratified, making it part of our domestic law. Due process means arrest and fair trial. It is what separates democracies from dictatorships, in which the executive acts as judge, jury and executioner.

During the standoff, Johnson reportedly told police there were “bombs all over” downtown Dallas. The police didn’t know if that was true. In order to protect the public, they could have interrogated him about the location of the bombs after getting him out of the garage with tear gas.

Apprehension and interrogation are recommended in a 2013 study conducted by the Pentagon’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Task Force. The study was cited in “The Drone Papers,” leaked to The Intercept by an anonymous whistleblower who was a member of the intelligence community. It concluded, “kill operations significantly reduce the intelligence available from detainees and captured material” and recommended capture and interrogation rather than killing in aerial drone strikes.

The Obama administration currently uses unmanned armed drones to kill people in seven countries, effectively denying them due process.

There is a slippery slope from police use of armed robots to domestic use of armed drones. The Dallas police department’s robot was apparently manufactured by Northrup Grumman, the same company that makes the Global Hawk drones, used for surveillance in Obama’s drone program.

More than half the U.S.-Mexico border is patrolled with surveillance drones. Customs and Border Protection is considering arming them with “non-lethal” weapons. That could include rubber bullets, which can put out an eye.

The killing of Johnson is evidently the first time domestic law enforcement has utilized an armed robot to kill a suspect. It will not be the last. Police departments are becoming increasingly militarized, using assault weapons, armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, and ear-splitting sirens known as LRADs. Much of this equipment is purchased from the Pentagon at a significant discount.

But the answer to our national epidemic of racist police killings is not to further militarize law enforcement. We must completely rethink and restructure policing. That means requiring advanced degrees for police officers, intensive screening for racism, and rigorous training in how to handle cross-racial situations. It means moving toward community-based policing and citizens police-review boards with independent authority. And it means coming to grips with the pernicious racism that permeates our society.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, a former criminal defense attorney, and past president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Follow her on Twitter.

This article first appeared on The Hill.

More articles by:

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She writes, speaks and does media about human rights and U.S. foreign policy. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.” Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail