By Shane Trejo
The Dakota Access Pipeline protests have made national news, as millions of Americans are concerned with potential property rights violations and environmental damage that may be caused by the controversial project. The location of the protest and a law passed by the North Dakota legislature last year has created the specter of police using weaponized drones against protesters.
Last year, the North Dakota state legislature passed a bill that drastically limited law enforcement use of drones, requiring a warrant in most cases. The original bill introduced by Rep. Rick Becker banned all weaponized drones. But a police lobbyist named Bruce Burkett managed to push through an amendment in committee making the prohibition apply only to lethal weapons. That means “less than lethal” weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers now permitted on police drones.
Becker was opposed to the amendment, and testified against it during a committee hearing.
In my opinion there should be a nice, red line: drones should not be weaponized. Period.
Immediately after the bill became law, media began reporting that North Dakota had “legalized weaponized drones.”
Natives News, an organization focused primarily on stories of importance to Native Americans, picked up the story in lieu of the situation that is unfolding in North Dakota. Back in September, they released a report.
Armed drones could be used by police in the US state of North Dakota after local lawmakers legalized their use.
While they will be limited to “less than lethal” weapons, tear gas, tasers, rubber bullets and pepper spray could all be used in theory by the remote controlled flying machines.
In a classic case of unintended consequences, the original sponsor, Republican state representative Rick Becker said he was unhappy with the way legislation turned out.
To date, there have been no reports of weaponized drones being used against Dakota Access Pipeline protesters. There was a report of an unmanned drone being shot down by law enforcement, but no reports of protesters being attacked by weaponized drones. Nevertheless, law enforcement in North Dakota does legally have that option, and it may expand to other states from there.
If weaponized drones become the norm throughout the country, it could have chilling consequences on political speech. As corruption worsens and the chaos continues within American politics, it is especially important to make sure that government is sufficiently limited. There will certainly be mass demonstrations and other strife to come, and while government officials certainly have the right to defend themselves against violent assault, many have shown that they will use aggressive force against peaceful protesters when given the opportunity. Given weapons of war to play around with, it easy to see how abuses could follow.
You don’t need to go back to the infamous Kent State shooting that happened in the 1970s to find an example of these abuses. The infamous Occupy Wall Street picture of peaceful protesters getting pepper sprayed while meekly sitting down comes to mind. Law enforcement sticking guns into the faces of ordinary folks after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson comes to mind as well.
If you don’t empathize with the cause of the native Americans pushing back against the pipeline, think of how this type of technology could be used to squash your rights. They could have sent in drones or militarized police to “handle” the folks at the Bundy Ranch with extreme force. What if Hillary Clinton sent drones to “take care of” pro-Constitution activists who protest her if she obtains higher office? These are questions we must take a great deal of time reflecting upon before we open Pandora’s Box.
North Dakota did exactly the opposite of what states need to do moving forward. States need to be very careful about how they deal with these burgeoning technologies, and pass restrictions upon them that protect individual rights. Our Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act protects individuals from weaponized drones as well as severing access to a massive data pool that is being collected on behalf of Big Brother. Contact your legislator today, and urge them to put forth a bill like this before its too late and our 1st Amendment rights evaporate for good.
Image by Fibonacci Blue, Flickr