By Cres Vellucci
The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A plan by the San Francisco Police Dept. to deploy armed remote-controlled robots to use deadly force was strongly and roundly criticized Monday by nearly 50 community-based civil and human rights organizations, who suggested, “People are naturally uncomfortable with the use of armed robots.”
“We urge the (SF Board of Supervisors) to take seriously the opposition to the SFPD using robots for deadly force…supposed use cases for this technology are not worth the damage it would do to the city’s reputation and the safety of its most policed populations,” according to a letter from the coalition.
In the letter, the groups argued “The SFPD’s proposal is not a public safety solution, as the department claims, but an expansion of police power that history and common sense demonstrates will endanger lives needlessly.”
The SF board already voted to support the deployment of so-called “killer robots,” but the coalition asked the body to reverse the vote this Tuesday to stop “deadly force and dangerous equipment authorized for use in extreme circumstances working its way into more common police procedures (that) threatens the privacy and safety of city residents and visitors.”
In short, the coalition charged the killing of people of color at rates much higher than those of whites would continue in an age of armed robots.
“There is no basis to believe that robots toting explosives might be an exception to police overuse of deadly force. Using robots that are designed to disarm bombs to instead deliver them is a perfect example of this pattern of escalation, and of the militarization of the police force that concerns so many across the city,” the letter claimed.
The coalition noted police in the U.S. have killed 1,054 people in the last year, Black Americans at a rate three times more than white Americans. In SF, citing Mapping Police Violence statistics from 2013 to 2021, “Black people were 9.7 times as likely and Latinx people were 4.3 times as likely to be killed by SFPD as a white person by population.”
And, the letter quoted Mission Local stats, from 2000 to 2021 that show more than “30 percent of fatal police shootings in San Francisco killed Black people, even though Black people were only about five percent of the city’s population. And despite California having one of the strongest laws governing police use of deadly force in the country, unarmed people and bystanders are killed with disturbing frequency.”
The coalition took issue with SFPD’s proposal that, using “exigent circumstance” and other “flexible justification” reasons, police could send robots to make arrests, for searches and warrants, and even to peaceful demonstrations if warranted by the Chief of Police or other top officials.
The policy would allow “police to use robotic deadly force without first attempting alternatives,” and that’s not acceptable, said the coalition, noting the Oakland Police Dept. proposed arming robots this past October but those plans failed.
Among the wide-ranging, eclectic groups to sign the letter: ACLU of Northern California, American Friends Service Committee, ANSWER Coalition, Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, CAIR San Francisco Bay Area, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Interfaith Power and Light, CODEPINK for Peace, San Francisco Bay Area, Community Awareness Resource Entity (C.A.R.E.), Critical Resistance Oakland, Democratic Socialists of America, San Francisco, East Bay CodePink, Electronic Frontier Foundation, End Solitary Santa Cruz County, GLIDE, Global Exchange, Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, Indivisible SF, Joanne Davis, MFT, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Legal Services for Children, Media Alliance, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Lawyers Guild – San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, Oakland Privacy, Party for Socialism and Liberation – Bay Area, Peaceworkers, San Francisco Berniecrats, San Francisco Gray Panthers, San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club, San Francisco Public Defender, SEIU Local 1021, Seminary of the Street, Spiralroot Power Association, Support Life Foundation, Tenth Amendment Center, The Kim Caldwell Show, Therapists for Peace and Justice, The Village In Oakland, WISE Health, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, San Francisco Branch, Workers Circle/Arbeter Ring, No. CA (Branch 1054).