VICTORY: San Francisco Police Reverse Decision to Use Killer Robots on American Citizens

By Cruz Marquis

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to discontinue the policy passed only days earlier allowing police to kill American citizens with robots.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yeild and government to gain ground.” While the archaic spelling of “yield” shows the quote is dated, the truth of it remains just as valid today as it was then. Overtime, liberty tends to give way under the eroding power of the state and the constituents arrayed behind it.

That being said, sometimes the forces of liberty strike back, seizing back lost ground. Such is exactly what happened in San Francisco this week as the city Board of Supervisors repented of its hasty and absurd decision to allow the police to assassinate American citizens with robots.

San Francisco’s latest decision comes in the wake of massive resistance from civil liberties groups, including a protest in the city where activists held a sign reading: “we all saw that movie… No killer Robots.” Several dozen protestors stayed outside of city hall the better part of Monday with placards and made a good showing of themselves. At least one member of the board of supervisors, the body which originally approved the order, was among the protestors.

The only other California city which expressed interest in killer robots was Oakland, which wanted to go a step further than San Francisco by arming them with shotguns. Massive resistance there diffused the dystopian designs of police gun toting robots, and to get around the resistance, the police moved not to scrap the plan, but downgrade the weaponry. Now Oakland police robots are only expected to carry non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray. Driving killer robots completely away from Oakland will be the task of another day.

The Conservative Critique was among the outlets raising the alarm when the original policy went into effect. I reasoned what was today a problem only for San Francisco, tomorrow would be a general problem around the nation, writing: “Now is the best time to stop the proliferation of killer robots in police departments before a localized problem jumps to a general one. San Francisco made the wrong choice to approve the use of deadly force by robots, regardless of what rules of engagement are placed on them. This must be a wake-up call for those cherishing liberty and the sanctity of human life, –the killer robots must be outlawed.”

By stopping the killer robot policy in some of the first cities to integrate them into their policing tactics, a message was sent to other police departments around the country: the American citizenry does not want this. Had this episode played out differently and resistance was less or nil, other police departments would clamor for their own killer robots and the local problem would become a general problem. Precedent has power and because of quick action by good men, a good one was set in San Francisco and to a lesser extent Oakland.

As it stands, the San Francisco police department still has a number of robots in their possession which could be rigged to be lethal. They are still legally allowed to use them for non-lethal purposes, such as reconnaissance i.e., spying. The plan was kicked back to committee for further consideration and there is no guarantee the problem will not return just as it had the first time. Indeed, some city officials are displeased with the move and would like to see the original policy stand.  

Even while Oakland goes ahead with less than lethal robots, and San Francisco yet may go back to the original policy, it is worth celebrating that for now the worst policies were stopped. While celebrating, the friends of liberty must rest not on our laurels, for any lackadaisical defense will be seized on for a new attack. Instead, we must push ever farther and ensure that all plans for police killer robots are foiled and never see a rubber “approved” stamp.

As Irish lawyer John Philpot Curran said: “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance, which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”

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