Of Lethal Drones and Police Shootings

There are chilling parallels between President Obama’s overseas drone program and how police treat America’s non-white citizens, with the slightest suspicion escalating into official violence and even death, writes Kathy Kelly.

By Kathy Kelly

Two major news stories here in the U.S., both chilling, point out how readily U.S. authorities will murder people based on race and the slightest possibility of a threat to those in places of power.

On July 5, Baton Rouge police killed Anton Sterling in a Louisiana parking lot. Sterling was a 37-year-old black father of five selling CDs outside of a local store. As captured on widely seen cell-phone video, two officers tased him, held him with their hands and knees down on the ground and then shot him multiple times at close range.

Video image of police holding down Alton Sterling before shooting him on July 5, 2016, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Image from CNN)

Video image of police holding down Alton Sterling before shooting him on July 5, 2016, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Image from CNN)

The officers pulled a gun out of Sterling’s pocket after they had killed him but witnesses say Sterling was not holding the gun and his hands were never near his pockets. The situation might have escalated further but clearly little concern was shown for the sanctity of a human life deemed a threat to officers.

In the witness-recorded video one, officer promises, “If you f—ing move, I swear to God!”

Police departments in the U.S. often arrest and all too often kill citizens on U.S. streets based on “racial profiling.” Young men of certain demographics are targeted based on their “patterns of behavior” for confrontations in which officers’ safety trumps any concern for the safety of suspects, and which easily ramps up to killing.

And so it is abroad. The week’s other chilling news involved the long-promised release of U.S. government data on drone strikes and civilian deaths. The report covered four countries with which the U.S. is not at war. From 2009 through 2015 in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, the U.S. admits to its drone strikes having killed between 64 and 116 civilians, although these numbers are only a small fraction of even the most conservative estimates on such deaths made by credible independent reporters and researchers over the same period.

With U.S. definitions of a “combatant” constantly in flux, many of the 2,372 to 2,581 “combatants” that the government reports killed over the same period will have certainly been civilian casualties. Few eyes in the U.S. watch for cell-phone video from these countries, and so the executing officers’ versions of events are often all that matters.

In June 2011, CIA Director John Brennan stated there hadn’t been “a single collateral death” caused by drone strikes over the previous eighteen months. Ample reportage showed this statistic was a flat lie.

Classified Policies

International law expert Marjorie Cohn notes that what little we know of President Obama’s 2013 policy guidelines (still classified) for decreasing civilian deaths is inconsistent even on the point of a known target having been present. Many strikes are targeted at areas of suspicious activity with no idea of who is present.

A Predator drone firing a missile.

A Predator drone firing a missile.

As former CIA officer Philip Giraldi notes, a March 2015 Physicians for Social Responsibility report claims that more (perhaps far more) than 1.3 million people were killed during the first ten years of the “Global War on Terror” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Adding Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, he finds the current total might easily exceed 2 million with some estimates credibly going to 4 million or beyond. He fears the data released on July 1 will end up normalizing the drone program, writing:

“The past 15 years have institutionalized and validated the killing process. President Clinton or Trump will be able to do more of the same, as the procedures involved are ‘completely legal’ and likely soon to be authorized under an executive order.”

The July 1 data minimizes civilian deaths by limiting itself to countries with which the U.S. is not at war. But the United States’ drone arsenal is precisely designed to project violence into areas miles from any battlefield where arrest, not assassination, would before have been considered both feasible and morally indispensable in dealing with suspects accused of a crime.

U.S. figures do not count untold numbers of civilians learning to fear the sky, in formerly peaceful areas, for weapons that might be fired without warning. The drones take away the very idea of trials and evidence, of the rule of law, making the whole world a battlefield. In the U.S. neighborhoods where people like Alton Sterling most risk summary execution, residents cannot be faulted for concluding that the U.S. government and society don’t mind treating their homes as warzones; that lives of innocent people caught up in these brutal wars do not matter provided the safety and property of the people outside, and of the people sent in to quell disorder, are rigorously protected.

My friends and sometime hosts in Afghanistan, the Afghan Peace Volunteers, run a school for street kids and a seamstress program to distribute thick blankets in the winter. They seek to apply Mohandas Gandhi’s discipline of letting a determination to keep the peace show them the difficult work needed to replace battlefields with community.

Their resources are small and they live in a dangerous city at a perilous time. Their work does little, to say the least, to ensure their safety. They aim to put the safety of their most desperate neighbors first.

It makes no one safer to make our cities and the world a battlefield. The frenzied concern for our safety and comfort driving so much of our war on the Middle East has made our lives far more dangerous.

What Brings Peace?

Can we ask ourselves: which has ever brought a peaceful future nearer to people in Afghan or U.S. neighborhoods – weaponized military and surveillance systems or the efforts of concerned neighbors seeking justice?

President Barack Obama uncomfortably accepting the Nobel Peace Prize from Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. (White House photo)

President Barack Obama uncomfortably accepting the Nobel Peace Prize from Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. (White House photo)

Gigantic multinational “defense” systems gobble up resources, while programs intended for social well-being are cut back. The U.S. withholds anything like the quantity of resources needed for the task of healing the battle scars that the U.S. and NATO have inflicted on so much of the Muslim world. If our fear is endless, how will these wars ever end?

We have to face the fact that when the U.S. acts as self-appointed “global policeman,” what it does to poor nations resembles what those two officers did to Alton Sterling. We must temper selfish and unreasonable fears for our own safety with the knowledge that others also want safe and stable lives.

We must build community by lessening inequality. We must swear off making the world our battlefield and be appalled to hear the U.S. government seem to tell the world “I will kill you if you f—ing move.”

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org).

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14 comments for “Of Lethal Drones and Police Shootings

  1. Tristan
    July 7, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    A poignant article, and to find this, “I will kill you if you f—ing move.” as a summation is par excellence in working to reveal the nature of power unrestrained, from the top to bottom. The corruption of those in positions of power, where the lives of human beings among the 99% are not worthy of consideration In any sense, is complete.

  2. Joe Tedesky
    July 7, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Kathy Kelly, I can verify that it would only be a matter of changing out some tooling, and revamping the tooling jigs as to how we could go towards pounding out weapons into plowshares. It would amaze some to how quick, and easy this conversion could be done. Although, you would need to change our current leaderships rhetoric, and in there lies the problem. Thanks for your contribution, your message is a great one.

  3. David G
    July 7, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    Kathy Kelly doesn’t mention the Minnesota shooting that has dominated the news along with the one in Baton Rouge, but I think mentioning it here is on point.

    In the Abner Louima case in New York years ago, I came to the uncomfortable realization that the police torturer and his accomplices in the preliminary assault and subsequent coverup only made a “mistake” (if you’ll forgive the ironic usage) in not killing their victim. They were foolish enough to let him live (though grievously injured), and Louima was thus able to tell his story to the media, which listened, and published, and the blue wall of silence (eventually) crumbled (somewhat). If he had died right away, the story would have been a minor news item, and I don’t believe any of the criminal cops would ever have faced any consequences.

    I mention this now, because I think the Minnesota police here made the same “mistake” in letting the woman in the car live long enough to tell her story to her phone, and thereby the world. Think of how this would be going down if the cops had simply shot her directly after her companion: no video narrative, no international notoriety, and the only story the few people who learned of the killings would ever hear would be that of heroic law enforcement compelled to act in self-defense.

    I fear that there are many police who have learned not to make this “mistake”. These are the cases the public never hear of, unless video fortuitously exists, which will sometimes make a difference (Walter Scott), and sometimes won’t (Tamir Rice).

    • SFOMARCO
      July 8, 2016 at 1:21 am

      NYPD shot Amadou Diallo (from Guinea) 41 times inside his own apartment building, while attempting to show his ID in his wallet. Settlement was only $3MM.

      • David G
        July 8, 2016 at 7:42 pm

        Not sure what your point is, but I’d note that the notion Diallo was doing *anything* to provoke the shooting (like reach for his wallet) has no basis other than the cops’ own, self-serving account.

    • July 8, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      Kathy Kelly wrote and submitted this article to the alternative press before the shooting of Castile in Minnesota.

  4. Gary Hare
    July 7, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    Shootings by police, gun culture, drone strikes anywhere, endless war against mostly defenceless nations, rampant financial fraud – it can only be concluded that the US is imbued with an aggressive, violent and self-delusional culture. This is obvious throughout its history – black slavery, Indian genocide, invasion of sovereign countries from Mexico to today. All justified with delusional rationale of “bringing democracy”, “world’s policeman”, “the greater good”, “exceptionalism”, etc. In fact it is based entirely on “dog eat dog” greed, blindly supported by internal propaganda, eagerly devoured by a self-occupied, arrogant, non-thinking and ignorant public.
    Arrogance and ignorance individually are able to be managed. Together they make the poisonous cocktail that is the US, and its sycophantic leeches, of today.

  5. Nancy
    July 8, 2016 at 1:06 am

    The article is spot-on. It’s also playing-out in the call for equal application of law in the Killary email issue.

    Sadly, tonight someone has apparently fought back in the streets if Dallas TX.

    The large, ugly elephant in the room is now visible? How many will it trample?

    • Zachary Smith
      July 8, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      Odd that you mentioned Dallas on this thread about “lethal drones”. Google News says that the police killed the shooter with a vehicular drone carrying a bomb.

      One wonders if the SWAT raids of the future will be based on this fine technology. A ‘tip’ from an informant means that the first thing at your door is a big bomb on wheels. Never mind that the tipster was making things up. Or the cops had the wrong address.

      http://www.theverge.com/2016/7/8/12129348/dallas-shooting-bomb-robot

  6. Evangelista
    July 8, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    Two things need to be done before there will be any chance for any efforts to begin movement toward positive solution to the present escalatings of violence and counter-violence:

    One, and most imperative, racism must be removed from the rhetoric: “Black Lives Matter” is racist, is excluding and is devisive. “The People” of the United States is a body composed of peoples of all different races, ethnicities, etc. The lives of any of The People, regardless of any differences between any of them, are equal and need to be recognized, and defined as equal. It is not wrong for police to off-handedly kill black American People because they are black, it is wrong for them to kill them off-handedly because they are ones of “The People” defined in the Preamble to the United State Constitution. As long as The People are divided and “racially profiled” by the supporters and defenders of any ones, it will be impossible for any to respond in unity against usurpers of Constitutional authorities and the unConstitutional institutions, government and government structures they initiate, implement and form. Police killings of black Americans, indigenous Americans, white Americans, weird Americans, ‘unamerican’ Americans, different Americans and any other Americans are all equaly wrong for the same reason, which is not that the individual difference of any one should be tolerated, but that the individual differences of all are required to be tolerated by the definition of Liberty, and are required to be protected to protect the Liberty the Preamble of the United States Constitution defines the law of the Constitution to be imposed on the governing in the United States to protect for all.

    Two, the police must be disarmed. Before any controllings, other than the individual personal controls common sense requires of persons responsible for weapons, may be imposed on The Peoples’ arms and armaments, legally, in the United States, the servants to The People vested with governing and policing authorities must be disarmed. The United States Constitution, in its Preamble defines the hierarchy of government in the United States, and defines “We the People” to be the owners, the eneficiaries and the final authorities: The Constitution is law by the People, not law for the people. The Constitution is law for the government, and for the ‘public servant’ persons of the government, whose responsibilities are to serve The People, not to govern them (The People are responsible, individually, to govern themselves). Until the policing authorities of the United States are disarmed and returned to under The People’s control, The People, all of them, not any individual groups, ethnicities, races, etc., need more arms, not less. And they need to, as the Second Amendment states, form a militia, one militia, not many, to protect all of their individual Libertys against all who would usurp the People’s individual prerogatives and use their government structures and vested authorities against them, and against others, for their, not The People’s, purposes and ends.

    The current Commercial Aristocracy’s misuses of both United States military resources abroad, and United States policing resources domestically (including he whole structure of cops, courts and bureaucratic entities that have usurped authorities), need to be controlled and brought to account to end the current Commercial Elite entities’ usurping of the governing structures of United States and oppression of the United States’ People. Before that is done, or if because differing component entities composing the People of the United States can be kept fighting amongst each other can be kept from joining together, it will be impossible to restore the legal, Constitutionally defined, government of the United States.

  7. Peter Loeb
    July 9, 2016 at 6:56 am

    THE BLACK/WHITE EXPERIENCE

    Being white, I have lived in black,brown and beige
    areas for many decades. Before there was “#Black Lives
    Matter”, I worked as a concierge for an outpatient health-
    care facility a few blocks away from my apartment. My “uniform”
    was an obviously fake policeman’s type get up complete
    with fake policeman-like cap. I would not say that my
    employer “ordered” but strongly admonished that I MUST
    keep my fake cop hat on when walking the few blocks
    to my apartment where I had lived some 16 1/2 years.

    On my way home I once followed instructions. People I had
    known through the years would shout at me in friendly
    tones, “Peter, what ARE you doing?!!”

    Suddenly I was one of THEM.

    As most blacks will tell you (if you are not an officer)
    that is what every black does.

    To continue the story, afterwards I always took my faked
    cop hat OFF before walking home.

    In sum, there is a standard of behavior if one is black that
    is ingrained in all blacks who live in black areas. And
    as we know, even in other areas as well. Class, status etc.
    get you nothing.Nothing at all.It is another world.

    By contrast, I went to HS in a small town, one Chief of
    Police and one assistant. My Mom drove a bright red
    VW. Once when she got home, the phone was
    ringing. It was “Bill”, the Chief of Police. “Ms. Loeb,”
    he said,”I would not drive at that speed again if I
    were you. I would have to arrest you.” Mom thanked
    “Bill” and that was that.

    Different worlds.

    Thanks to Kathy Kelly for an excellent article.

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  8. Richo
    July 10, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    I would call upon everyone working in a plant manufacturing drones, military aircraft, or other war machines to deliberately mis-produce one or more critical elements so as to render them non productive. The slave workers in natzi germany did this, and I think we should start to do that also.

  9. July 19, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    There is a fascist/ racist tragedy unfolding in the The USA is terrorist nation #1.
    This is a good Facebook Page to follow stories like this.
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=189645587773074&fref=ts

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