SF BOS Reverses Itself – Bans Killer Robots

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Sebastien Cote via Getty

Special to the Vanguard

San Francisco, CA – It was a rare move.  A second reading for an ordinance, and following outcry from the community and national attention, on Tuesday the San Francisco Board of Supervisors changed course on the SFPD’s proposed policy to use military robots to kill, explicitly banning the practice in a dramatic reversal.

“The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: There is no place for killer police robots in our city,” said Supervisor Dean Preston, who led the fight against the use-of-force policy. “There have been more killings at the hands of police than any other year on record nationwide. We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.”

Last week, the board approved the policy in an 8-3 vote on November 29, with Supervisors Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen, and Board President Shamann Walton in dissent.

However, the vote was controversial and led to widespread condemnation by San Francisco community members, civil rights organizations, and labor groups locally and internationally, with over 100 people showing up to City Hall to protest Monday morning.

Following the protest, and amid questions around whether the prior vote potentially violated state law transparency requirements, the Board took the unusual step today of reversing its prior approval. After deliberation, the Board elected to move forward a use-of-force policy that explicitly bans lethal force by police robots. In addition, the Board chose to duplicate the file to allow a larger conversation on the proper use of military robots by police.

“Thanks to the passionate residents of the Bay Area and the leadership of Supervisors Preston, Ronen, and Walton, the Board today voted against SFPD use of deadly force with remote-controlled robots,” said Matthew Guariglia, Policy Analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Should the Rules Committee revisit the issue, the community must come together to stop this dangerous use of technology.”

The issue has generated international attention, with coverage in BBC World News, the Associated Press, and El Pais , with civil liberties experts sounding the alarm about the harmful precedent of local law enforcement being granted the authority to use robots that kill. The issue also raised alarms about what the policy might mean for communities of color, particularly Black and brown communities who are disproportionately subjected to use of force by the SFPD.

“This fight isn’t over, but we are grateful that the Board explicitly banned police robots with deadly force,” Preston said. “I am calling on my colleagues to take heed of the powerful backlash and make sure this harmful policy is never approved – not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”

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