Domestic Drones And Militarization of US Urban Policing
Last week, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul helped to catapult a national conversation on the use of drones on domestic soil into the national spotlight. He engaged in a 13-hour filibuster of President Barack Obama’s nominee to run the CIA John Brennan.
Many people have attacked Congressman Paul for doing so.
However, shouldn’t there be a vigorous debate about the domestic use of drones?
Senator Paul ended his 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan to head the CIA at 12:39 a.m. Thursday. The Tea Party politician started his filibuster on Wednesday. At one point, he talked for three hours just about the White House’s refusal to rule out the use of domestic drone strikes on Americans.
The issue of unmanned drones has gained increasing attention, especially, after President Obama decided to nominate Mr. Brennan to replace the outgoing CIA head General David Petraeus.
Many have complained of the foreign drone program that is used to kill alleged terrorists in places like Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan. Approximately 3,000 people have been killed in drone strikes connected to Mr. Brennan—who oversees the “Disposition Matrix” a kill, or, capture list of terror suspects.
Some, like Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin, author of the book “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote” have complained about the innocent civilians who have also been killed in drone strikes.
Now, the prospect of the use of drones, domestically, has angered and scared some as they are being prepared for use by police departments and other law enforcement agencies around the nation.
Senator Paul’s filibuster was initially meet with broad skepticism—even by Republicans. The harshest rebuke on the Hill came from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Arizona Senator John McCain.
Mr. McCain called Paul’s effort “ridiculous.” ,But as the day dragged on Senator Paul received the support of several Republicans including: Senators John Thune (S.D.); Mitch McConnell (Ky.); Ron Johnson (Wis.); Tim Scott (S.C.); Jeff Flake (Ariz.); and, Mike Lee ((R-Utah.) who said ,“Americans have every reason to be concerned any time the government wants to intrude on life, liberty or prosperity.”
Mr. Paul’s filibuster also attracted Senator Ron Wyden (Ore.), who said he “appreciated” Senator Paul’s endeavor to raise awareness of the issue of drones. As he ended his filibuster Senator Paul said “I’m hopeful that we have drawn attention to this issue, that this issue will not fade away, and that the president will come up with a response.”
In a letter to Senator Paul, Attorney General Eric Holder responded to one of Paul’s questions this way: "It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no." Many people have attacked Senator Paul’s filibuster as nothing more than a grandstanding opportunity. That may indeed be the case. Nonetheless, Mr. Paul was able to do us all a service by bringing the issue of domestic drone use to the forefront. Reportedly, drones have now become an enticing new tool that national law enforcement agencies are not lining up to utilize.
Interestingly enough, two of the people who criticized Senator Paul for his filibuster most vociferously were Senators Graham and McCain. Mr. Graham who attacked President Obama over the handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, praised the president for his use of drones while chiding Mr. Paul and other Republicans. Senator Graham exposed a level of hypocrisy within the Republican Party by pointing out that Republicans never complained when President George W. Bush was using drones.
Senator Graham and Senator McCain were vehemently dismissive of Senator Paul’s filibuster and denied that any American could be killed with a drone without due process by the federal government. Even assuming that’s true, will this logic also apply to state and local governments who will also be purchasing and using this drone death technology?
As we ponder this question, we should keep in mind the events of May, 13 1985 in Philadelphia. On that fateful day, the City of Philadelphia dropped a four-pound C-4 bomb, along with a water-gel explosive called Tovex, from a helicopter on an apartment building at Osage Avenue, in the Cobbs Creek area, of West Philadelphia. Eleven people including five children were killed. Approximately 61 homes were destroyed and at least a block was burned and reduced to rubble. The only survivors of the bombing were Ramona Africa and a child.
Some 240 people were left homeless. Reportedly, then Philadelphia Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor said he gave the order to bomb this building because, it was claimed, MOVE, a Black liberation, back-to-nature group headquartered there, represented a public nuisance and menace.
MOVE, which was formed in 1972 by Korean War Veteran John Africa, had clashed in 1978 with Philadelphia police when they were located at the West Philadelphia area of Powelton Village. That altercation resulted in the death of one policeman and the arrest of nine members of the group, known as the MOVE 9. They were all later convicted of third-degree murder.
In 1986, the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission, or MOVE Commission, castigated the actions of the city saying: "Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable.” Then, in 1988, a Philadelphia grand jury declared that Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode and his advisors exhibited "morally reprehensible behavior" that led to this “city's greatest tragedy.” However, there were no criminal indictments of anyone in this bloody affair.
Award-winning journalist and former Philadelphia Death Row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is now serving a life sentence for allegedly killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner covered the MOVE organization as a reporter. Some think Mr. Jamal was framed for Officer Faulkner’s murder, in part, because of his insightful coverage of corruption in Philadelphia and for his sympathetic reporting of groups like MOVE.
The bombing of MOVE is one example of why we should question the domestic use of drones. Regardless, of how one felt about MOVE, did the city of Philadelphia have a right to engage in such a destructive act negatively impacting the lives of people who had nothing to do with MOVE?
African-Americans, in particular, should pay close attention here. Who do you think will be used as the experimental test case guinea pigs for this death drone technology? Currently, African-American communities resemble armed occupied zones and are becoming increasingly militarized under the guise of "controlling" crime.
Across America African-Americans have been criminalized by this country’s criminal justice system which is still underpinned by racism and White supremacy. Why else do we see the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans? Why else do police officers engage in the wanton killings and executions of African-American males?
Why else is the larger society so silent about this injustice being perpetrated against people of color by the forces of “law and order?”
On Tuesday, some Democrats who met with President Obama, reportedly, raised their concerns about the drone program and its use on the domestic front.
This is good. We need more transparency and debates on this topics.
Democrats should be the ones spearheading congressional hearings on this matter.