San Francisco Board of Supervisors considers authorizing the City of San Francisco’s Police Department to use remote-controlled robots to deploy deadly force.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors considers authorizing the City of San Francisco’s Police Department to use remote-controlled robots to deploy deadly force. Credit: twitter

Last Updated on December 5, 2022 by BVN

S. E. Williams

Last Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to advance a policy giving the San Francisco Police Department authority to use remote-controlled robots to deliver deadly force in emergency situations. The board is scheduled to take a second vote on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

As one might imagine, there was an intense debate before the vote. Opponents, including civil liberties and a variety of other police oversight groups, expressed serious reservations. 

“There is no single issue that serves to precipitate a breakdown between law enforcement officials and minority groups-and has the potential for serious disorder-as police use of deadly and excessive force.”

Robert Lamb, Jr.

Of particular concern is the very real possibility that such authority could lead to enhanced militarization of police forces that many believe are already too aggressive and all too quick to deploy deadly force especially in situations involving Black and brown people.

Although the San Francisco Police Department claims it has no plans to deploy robots that are pre-armed with guns, it could instead deploy robots that are equipped with explosive charges as a way “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspects” when lives are at risk. This approach would only be taken in extreme circumstances, they proclaim.  

Micah Xavier Johnson was blown up by a Dallas Police Department robot equipped with an explosive device after he failed to surrender during a standoff with police. He was suspected of killing five police officers in July 2016. It was the first time in the U.S. that a robot was used to deploy deadly force by a police department. (source: wikipedia.com).

In addition, the department insists that only a limited number of high-ranking officers will be authorized to use the robots in such a manner and that even then, only after other alternative force or de-escalation tactics are tried and/or considered.

This proposed dystopian style, remote-controlled police use of deadly force strategy was first deployed in 2016 against a Black man, Micah Xavier Johnson, by the Dallas, Texas Police Department to end a standoff. Johnson was suspected of killing five police officers. They blew him up with a bomb attached to a robot.

Provided San Francisco gives a green light to this strategy, the question becomes how quickly will other police and sheriff departments follow suit?  

As long as police and sheriffs continue to use excessive and deadly force indiscriminately against Black and brown citizens, I believe communities should push back against authorization of such strategies, especially one that gives approval to blow people up from a distance.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

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S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.