US Home Killer Drones
During a recent "Black Lives Matter" demonstration held in Dallas, Micah Xavier Johnson, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, mounted his own personal, deadly protest by killing five and wounding seven police officers guarding the nonviolent rally.
After negotiating for some time with Johnson, who was holed up in a college parking garage, police sent in a robot armed with explosives to kill him.
The legal question is whether the officers reasonably believed Johnson posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury to them at the time they deployed the robot to kill him. Johnson was apparently isolated in the garage, posing no immediate threat. If the officers could attach explosives to the robot, they could have affixed a tear gas canister to the robot instead, to force Johnson out of the garage. In a similar case police in Albuquerque in 2014 used a robot to deploy gas which compelled the surrender of an armed suspect barricaded in a motel room.
But the Dallas police chose to execute Johnson with their killer robot. This was an unlawful use of force and a violation of due process.
The right to due process is a guarantee in the U.S. Constitution and also in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights making it part of US domestic law. Due process means arrest and fair trial. It is what separates democracies from dictatorships, in which the executive acts as judge, jury and executioner.
There were also practical public-safety concerns that should have been considered. During the standoff, Johnson reportedly told police there were "bombs all over" downtown Dallas. The police didn't know if that was true. In order to protect the public, they could have interrogated him about the location of the bombs after getting him out of the garage with tear gas.
The Obama administration currently uses unmanned armed drones to kill people in seven countries, effectively denying them due process.
There is a slippery slope from police use of armed robots to domestic use of armed drones. The Dallas police department's robot was apparently manufactured by Northrop Grumman, the same company that makes the Global Hawk drones, used for surveillance in Barack Obama's drone program.
More than half the U.S.-Mexico border is patrolled with surveillance drones. Customs and Border Protection is considering arming them with "non-lethal" weapons. That could include rubber bullets, which can put out an eye.
The killing of Johnson is evidently the first time domestic law enforcement has utilized an armed robot to kill a suspect. But it surely will not be the last. Police departments are becoming increasingly militarized, using assault weapons, armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, and ear-splitting sirens known as LRADs. Much of this equipment is purchased from Pentagon at a significant discount.
The US has to search for an answer to the national epidemic of racist police killings and how not to further militarize law enforcement. This recent drone killing raises a question for all the US citizens on how to react on drone usage on the whole. Whereas it seems pretty useful, when "American boys" can stay alive and kill some terrorists while sitting at home, playing a video-game – operating a Predator somewhere in the Middle-East from Texas.
But when the police neglect a man his rights, by simply destroying him instead of trying to capture – that's when it makes people think. Both domestic criminals and foreign "terrorists" are neglected right of due process by the US, and how can you call that if not worldwide dictatorship? A thing that the US policy makers state they're fighting with…