In a stunning 8-to-3 vote yesterday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors banned the SFPD from using deadly force with remote-controlled robots. The Board also sent the killer robot policy back to its Rules Committee for revisions and more public comment. This is a big reversal: just one week ago, the Board voted 8-3 to authorize the SFPD to use these killer robots.
In one week, San Francisco and the greater Bay Area rallied to tell the Board that this policy was unacceptable. That rallying cry was so loud and undeniable that it was impossible for the Board, and the world, to ignore. The campaign to stop killer robots was covered by news outlets all over the world as people waited to see what kind of precedent would be set for law enforcement. Opponents staged a rally against the policy, and over 50 local organizations signed a coalition letter demanding that the Board reverse course on killer robots, … and they did.
But even as we take this moment to celebrate, make no mistake: the fight to stop killer robots in San Francisco, and around the country, is not over.
What happens next?
The Board sent the killer robot back to its Rules Committee. We may have to debate all over again the rules for police robots in San Francisco. The community will have more opportunities to give public comments. So will the police. They may try to find a more reasonable way to sell the idea of armed robots. We will stay vigilant and engaged.
Luckily, a majority of the Board of Supervisors voted to ban killer robots for the time being. Hopefully, they will support a permanent ban.
YOU Did It
This could not have been achieved without the hard work of activists and residents across the Bay Area who worked together, made their voices heard, and came out to a rally early on a Monday morning. We’re thankful for the leadership of the stalwart city leaders who never backed down on this issue: Supervisor Preston, Supervisor Rosen, and Board President Walton. We also appreciate supervisors Mar, Chan, Melgar, Peskin, and Safai for changing their votes.
The world was watching to see if a diverse and politically lively city would allow its police to kill with robots. The negative national attention this received should make it obvious not only to San Francisco, but to community leaders around the country and the globe that this policy was extremely unpopular. We’re proud that San Francisco said “no” …for now. Residents should have protection against killer robots, and we will continue the fight to make sure that happens.
Matthew Guariglia is a policy analyst working on issues of surveillance and policing at the local, state, and federal level. He received a PhD in history at the University of Connecticut where his research focused on the intersection of race, immigration, U.S. imperialism, and policing in New York City. He is the co-editor of The Essential Kerner Commission Report (Liveright, 2021) and his bylines have appeared in NBC News, the Washington Post, Slate, Motherboard, and the Freedom of Information-centered outlet Muckrock. Matthew is an affiliated scholar at University of California, Hastings-School of Law and serves as an editor of “Disciplining the City,” a series on the history of urban policing and incarceration at the Urban History Association’s blog The Metropole. (Photo by Zack Garlitos)
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