Caitlin Johnstone: Normalizing Police Robot Murder

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by Caitlin Johnstone, published on Consortium News, December 8, 2022

Governments have been incrementally prepping the public toward accepting the use of police robots that kill people.

Fortunately, under public pressure, a decision by the city of San Francisco was reversed on Tuesday that would have legalized the use of killbots in certain types of emergencies, such as active shooters and suicide bombers, with high-ranking officers making the call as to whether their use is warranted.   

Police in San Francisco will be allowed to deploy potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations,” The Guardian reported initially. “The proposed policy does not lay out specifics for how the weapons can and cannot be equipped, leaving open the option to arm them,” The Guardian article continued, adding that the current plan is to equip them with “explosive charges” rather than firearms.

Although this move was blocked, we are seeing more and more expansions in the normalization of militarized police robots, with significant escalations from year to year. Last year I wrote a piece on the way police departments in the U.S. and Canada have been normalizing the use of quadrupedal robots (disingenuously labeled “dogs” for PR purposes) for tasks like surveilling hostage situations and enforcing Covid restrictions.

Now the Oakland Police Department is pushing for the use of robots armed with shotguns. Police have already used a robot armed with a bomb to kill a suspect in Texas.

Every year we’re seeing the spread of unmanned weapons systems for domestic use in Western civilization.

U.S. soldiers getting briefed on “robodogs” at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., December 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Joshua J. Garcia)

It makes sense that the U.S., where the police force is more heavily funded than almost any other nation’s military force, is leading this charge. As John and Nisha Whitehead explain for The Rutherford Institute, this ongoing expansion of police robot militarization tracks alongside the steadily increasing militarization of police forces in the U.S. more generally; SWAT teams first appeared in California the 1960s, by 1980 the U.S. was seeing 3,000 SWAT team-style raids per year and by 2014 that number had soared to 80,000. It’s probably higher now.

These robots, often acquired by local police departments through federal grants and military surplus programs, signal a tipping point in the final shift from a Mayberry style of community policing to a technologically-driven version of law enforcement dominated by artificial intelligence, surveillance, and militarization,” write Whitehead and Whitehead, adding, “It’s only a matter of time before these killer robots intended for use as a last resort become as common as SWAT teams.”

Like all escalations in police powers and police militarization, the increasingly widespread use of police killbots will be justified in the name of saving lives and protecting law enforcement officers, but will certainly see a rise in abuses of that new power. More importantly (at least in the long term), once armed robots are being used to police civilian populations, the powerful will have made the possibility of a people’s revolution against them far more remote.

Flesh-and-blood armed police will hesitate to fire upon their countrymen in a domestic uprising. They can be persuaded to side with the people and oust the sitting government. They have beating hearts and aren’t covered in armor.

AI-guided weaponized robots are not yet enforcing the rule of law on our streets, but that does appear to be where we’re headed, and once we’re there it’s entirely possible that the door to revolution will have been bolted shut for good.

If that’s the case, then it’s no exaggeration to say that humanity is in a race between (A) a revolution against the status quo power structures which are oppressing and exploiting us while driving us toward disaster and (B) the ubiquity of armed police units.

Our rulers keep incrementally pacing us into accepting this in the same way they pace us into accepting internet censorship, whistleblower persecution and the war on journalism.

Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on FacebookTwitterSoundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fiPatreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes.  For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.

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