Caitlin Johnstone: Normalizing Police Robot Murder

It makes sense that the U.S., where the police force is more heavily funded than almost any other nation’s entire military, is leading this charge.

Protest at San Francisco City Hall on Dec. 5 against a vote, later reversed, authorizing police use of deadly-force robots. (Pax Ahimsa Wikimedia Commons)

By Caitlin Johnstone

Governments have been incrementally prepping the public toward accepting the use of police robots that kill people.

Fortunately, under public pressure, a decision by the city of San Francisco was reversed on Tuesday that would have legalized the use of killbots in certain types of emergencies, such as active shooters and suicide bombers, with high-ranking officers making the call as to whether their use is warranted. 

“Police in San Francisco will be allowed to deploy potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations,” The Guardian reported initially. “The proposed policy does not lay out specifics for how the weapons can and cannot be equipped, leaving open the option to arm them,” The Guardian article continued, adding that the current plan is to equip them with “explosive charges” rather than firearms.

Although this move was blocked, we are seeing more and more expansions in the normalization of militarized police robots, with significant escalations from year to year. Last year I wrote a piece on the way police departments in the U.S. and Canada have been normalizing the use of quadrupedal robots (disingenuously labeled “dogs” for PR purposes) for tasks like surveilling hostage situations and enforcing Covid restrictions.

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A few months later I had to write another one on this trend because arms manufacturers had begun designing firearms specifically to be mounted on those same quadruped bots. The year before during the 2020 George Floyd protests it was revealed that police had been using drones to surveil demonstrations in U.S. cities, including the Predator drone normally used overseas by the U.S. military.

Now the Oakland Police Department is pushing for the use of robots armed with shotguns. Police have already used a robot armed with a bomb to kill a suspect in Texas. 

Every year we’re seeing the spread of unmanned weapons systems for domestic use in Western civilization.

It makes sense that the U.S., where the police force is more heavily funded than almost any other nation’s military force, is leading this charge. As John and Nisha Whitehead explain for The Rutherford Institute, this ongoing expansion of police robot militarization tracks alongside the steadily increasing militarization of police forces in the U.S. more generally; SWAT teams first appeared in California the 1960s, by 1980 the U.S. was seeing 3,000 SWAT team-style raids per year and by 2014 that number had soared to 80,000. It’s probably higher now.

U.S. soldiers getting briefed on “robodogs” at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., December 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Joshua J. Garcia)

“These robots, often acquired by local police departments through federal grants and military surplus programs, signal a tipping point in the final shift from a Mayberry style of community policing to a technologically-driven version of law enforcement dominated by artificial intelligence, surveillance, and militarization,” write Whitehead and Whitehead, adding, “It’s only a matter of time before these killer robots intended for use as a last resort become as common as SWAT teams.”

Like all escalations in police powers and police militarization, the increasingly widespread use of police killbots will be justified in the name of saving lives and protecting law enforcement officers, but will certainly see a rise in abuses of that new power. More importantly (at least in the long term), once armed robots are being used to police civilian populations, the powerful will have made the possibility of a people’s revolution against them far more remote.

Flesh-and-blood armed police will hesitate to fire upon their countrymen in a domestic uprising. They can be persuaded to side with the people and oust the sitting government. They have beating hearts and aren’t covered in armor. 

AI-guided weaponized robots are not yet enforcing the rule of law on our streets, but that does appear to be where we’re headed, and once we’re there it’s entirely possible that the door to revolution will have been bolted shut for good.

If that’s the case, then it’s no exaggeration to say that humanity is in a race between (A) a revolution against the status quo power structures which are oppressing and exploiting us while driving us toward disaster and (B) the ubiquity of armed police units.

Our rulers keep incrementally pacing us into accepting this in the same way they pace us into accepting internet censorship, whistleblower persecution and the war on journalism.

Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on FacebookTwitterSoundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fiPatreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes.  For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.

This is an updated article from and re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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8 comments for “Caitlin Johnstone: Normalizing Police Robot Murder

  1. Stephen Morrell
    December 10, 2022 at 17:09

    The following claim is fallacious and dangerous:

    “Flesh-and-blood armed police will hesitate to fire upon their countrymen in a domestic uprising. They can be persuaded to side with the people and oust the sitting government. They have beating hearts and aren’t covered in armor.”

    The cops aren’t the military, which often does hesitate to shoot its own population and frequently goes over to the side of a revolution, without which a revolutionary uprising will be drowned in blood. The capitalist military’s role generally is to shoot populations of other countries, in contrast to the cops, whose role is precisely to suppress the domestic population from infringing on the divine right of capital — and they show no hesitation in doing it. With the exception of fascist takeovers, there are no instances in history where the cops in any significant way have “side[d] with the people to oust the sitting government”. That’s a fatal delusion.

    The cops may well have “beating hearts” but they most definitely and with increasing frequency are covered in armour when confronted by any popular uprising, as the BLM protests have manifestly shown, even to the dimmest. The only times that cops ever “hesitate to fire upon their countrymen” are when they’re on the run from those “countrymen” who’ve had enough and have resorted to arming and organising themselves in a revolutionary uprising to break up and defeat the hated ‘thin blue line’ between the ruled and the rulers, between the oppressed and their oppressors.

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      December 10, 2022 at 22:25

      Excellent elucidation that helps one to differentiate between the defence, security and so called “security” forces.

  2. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
    December 9, 2022 at 13:36

    No matter in which sector automations and robots are introduced, these must be rapidly albeit cautiously welcomed, period. But whether this development-driven and progress-friendly-welcome grow and remains whole-hearted depends on whether the ultimate outcomes of their introduction and induction serve HEALTHILY the benefit of ALL in society or OBSCENELY just the classist and selfish interests of the elites alone, entirely to their publics’ detriments. This developmental mantra definitely ought to apply to the automatized “militerization” of the police and enforcement sectors too. Otherwise, the unmanned police techno-dogs (bitches or whatever else) will merely be made to end up as no more than the abused techno-bitches of the dogged “security” men being cheaply doggied, in turn, by their sociopathic elite masters to serve their exploitative, suppressive and/or oppressive whims ! The ultimate outcomes are important to NORMALIZING anything here. What is the use if, after all the mutual abuses, the human security dogs themselves get screwed out of their own “essential” jobs and futures by “their” robo-dogs, when they too become dispensible and are no longer deemed essential by their pay-master elites ?

  3. Vera Gottlieb
    December 9, 2022 at 09:45

    Force is the only language the Yankee understands.

  4. Tony
    December 9, 2022 at 08:48

    This is entirely predictable but, as the recent San Francisco vote shows, is not inevitable.

    Imagine how much easier it would be to assassinate someone if there are fewer people involved.

    The assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were all the product of a great deal of planning and involved a great many people. Their success was by no means inevitable and they all, to a considerable extent, went wrong. But with a drone it would be a very different matter.

    This is yet another very serious case of ‘blowback’.

    And it should not be forgotten that major police departments in the US have strong links to the CIA.

    And so, people need to campaign hard to build on the recent success in San Francisco.

  5. Realist
    December 8, 2022 at 22:03

    I suppose this phase in the evolution of American society was inevitable since both the existing technology and the current psychology of a permanently angry human mob together with its ham-fisted governmental instigators (and responders) have arrived together much as portrayed in the movie “Robocop.” The only difference, you don’t need the surviving brain of a killed human cop directing the murderous actions of the robot. Our existing computers alone will serve the purpose. Expect the battlefields of international wars to be concomitantly revolutionized. probably starting in Ukraine if that goes on for a few more years. The drones should be considered a start.

  6. lester
    December 8, 2022 at 15:31

    What do you want to bet that Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics will not be installed in these robots?

  7. Michael Perry
    December 8, 2022 at 14:15

    “Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

    Long live John & Yoko!
    (..she will be 90 on February 18th) wow..

Comments are closed.