By Dean Preston
Today’s vote approving the San Francisco Police Department’s dystopian military equipment policy—which will allow SFPD to use robots to kill people—is deeply disturbing. It is frankly embarrassing that the Board approved this policy based on nothing more than nonsensical hypotheticals, including one suggesting that the explosives-laden robot could be used to subdue a suicide bomber, floated by one of the few people in the City who will now have the power to approve the use of these killer robots.
This is a sad moment for our City, and one which shows how far the City has strayed from the reckoning on police violence in 2020. Allowing police to arm remote-controlled robots on the streets of San Francisco is dangerous, and like any other weapons used by police, will place Black and brown people in disproportionate danger of harm or death.
In contrast to the SFPD’s fear-mongering hypotheticals, we don’t have to look far to see why this decision could put San Franciscans in danger. We have plenty of examples of police using questionable or unjustified deadly force here at home. We also have examples of misuse of bombs and other explosives all over the country.
- San Francisco’s history, when a bomb was detonated outside the Mayor’s house during a dispute with SFPD.
- The Philadelphia Police Department dropping bombs on MOVE, killing 11 people—including five children—and burning down over 60 homes.
- Most recently, the Los Angeles Police Department’s negligent use of explosives, during which they blew up half a neighborhood.
Oakland just rejected a similar proposal to arm robots last month. Yet here in San Francisco, our Mayor, Police Department, and a supermajority of the Board of Supervisors just placed fear-mongering above safety, especially the safety of those disproportionately targeted by police violence. It’s an appalling decision, based on no evidence or showing of need.
I want to thank all of the residents and organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee of California, Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights, ACLU of Northern California, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the League of Women Voters, as well as my colleagues President Shamann Walton and Supervisor Hillary Ronen, and others who spoke out against this policy. We will continue pushing back against these increasingly-common instances of police overreach.
We have real public safety issues to solve. This kind of policy by fear-mongering, with its associated financial and human costs, moves us further from out goals of racial equity and safety for all.
I sincerely hope City leaders reflect and do better going forward.
Dean Preston is a Supervisor with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.