The media has rightly focused in recent days on the decision by the Dallas police to use a robot to blow up the black-power activist who murdered five police officers. Although the sniper, Micah Johnson, ultimately got what he deserved, we are troubled by this use of technology.
Even if we shed no tears for the shooter in this case, it is not hard to envision a scenario where such a dystopian killing machine is abused (or, given the competence we generally expect from the government, malfunctions) in the future. We are reminded of the exploding collars affixed to prisoners in the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Running Man.
Steve Sailer makes the point that use of the robot was not much different than the typical police tactic of using a sniper to take out an active shooter, but, as other commenters point out—aside from the precedent and optics—the robot didn’t appear necessary in this circumstance. The shooter was boxed in and not an immediate further threat to anyone. Given the potential for collateral damage from a robot, it seems a bit draconian.
Even a sniper who has admitted guilt, as Johnson did in his “negotiations” with the police, is entitled to due process (though the Dallas police chief’s and media’s repeated description of Johnson as a “suspect” in recounting the events seems inaccurate—how about “perpetrator”?). Police generally are charged with subduing and arresting a perpetrator unless killing him is necessary to prevent further loss of life.
Why couldn’t a robot be affixed with tear gas, a taser, or some other non-lethal disabling agent?
Incidentally, a Salon writer called this use of force a “frightening precedent.” In a first, we agree with every word of the article (except for the reference to “the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” which we had never heard of and, given that it was brought to us by the United Nations, probably means the opposite of its title suggests).