Furious Friday: NYPD Stole Money from New Yorkers, Spent It on Robots.

At what point does a country become a police state?

I think a case can be made that the US has always been one for people with darker skin, especially with programs like Stop and Frisk in NYC, but there’s a long history of government power being used to suppress left-wing political power, sometimes pretty explicitly. It’s a policy that pairs well with the foreign policy of violently crushing attempts at left-wing governance in the so-called “Global South”, and it makes me worry about what would happen if a left-wing political movement actually got real power in the United States. Conservative wingnuts have poisoned the concept, but the “Deep State” originally referred to official and unofficial policies within the State Department, the CIA, the FBI, and other parts of the US government working to suppress the left. This is not just conjecture, either. Leaving aside the obvious stuff like the McCarthy Era, the FBI ran counterintelligence operations to keep progressives out of power, and they spied on Quaker activists (among others) during the time when I was both a Quaker and an anti-war activist.

There’s also ICE, who in addition to terrorizing all sorts of people across the US, also decided to intimidate a comedian for making an edgy joke about the organization. ICE needs to be abolished.

And then, of course, there’s civil asset forfeiture. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a policy that allows police in the United States to just take stuff from people. If you have something that they decide is “suspicious”, they can just take it. Your money, your car, your house – anything. All they have to do is say that the something in question was somehow involved in a crime (usually drug-related), and then it’s on you to prove that it’s not. They also get to keep that money. It doesn’t go to the general city budget, or the justice department or anything like that, it goes to the department where the cop who sto- sorry, “seized” your stuff works. They use it for all sorts of things, like margarita machines. If you need a refresher, to get yourself good and revved up for what this post is actually about, watch John Oliver’s video on the subject:

At what point does a country become a police state?

If it’s not when the police are literally allowed to just steal from people, how about when they use that stolen money, directly, to buy the latest technology with which to harass and surveil the victims of their theft? Cops legally take billions from people in the US every year, and the NYPD just spent $750,000 of the money they stole from New Yorkers on some fucking robots, to help them oppress and steal from New Yorkers:

Great. No way this could go wro- oh wait, it was already wrong, because they stole the money to buy this shit!

I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate how fucked up this is, and you’d better believe that if anything happens to the robots, they’ll try to charge anyone even tangentially involved with assaulting a police officer. A large portion of USian policing seems to involve around looking for excuses to harass, assault, or rob people, and there is zero question in my mind that every new toy they get will be used for those ends. It won’t be long before some poor New Yorker has their life turned upside down by a robot bought with money stolen from them.

I also don’t think it’ll be long before the cops are putting guns on their robots, given that the concept has already been pioneered. Cops are out of control in the United States, and I think it’s fair to say that in some ways, the NYPD is the most out of control, when you consider that its budget is bigger than those of the armies of many nations. And now they’re using fucking robots.

I honestly have no idea how useful these things will end up being for the cops, but this is very much just the beginning. These robots will keep getting better, because the military-industrial complex loves death robots, and wants more of them. Make no mistake – these are weapons intended to be used against the people, and they will be used in the effort to crush any movement for systemic change. One of the themes of this blog is that climate change is progressing at a frightening speed, and that our governments aren’t doing nearly enough to deal with that. There’s one flaw in that premise, though, and it’s a big one. It assumes some degree of good intent from the ruling class. It’s quite possible – even likely – that they are taking action on climate change.

They’re pouring more money into police and the military, both of which serve them and their interests. A cynical man might conclude that they’re not planning on doing anything to slow climate change or to help society adapt, but rather that they are planning to use force to keep us in line as the world falls apart, trusting climate change to kill enough of us that we won’t be able to get into their luxury bunkers. They’ll keep using human enforcers if they have to, but there’s always a risk that they’ll side with the peasantry. Robots, on the other hand, just do as they’re programmed, and don’t have any of those pesky thoughts and opinions that makes humans so unreliable. As I said, I’m not sure how dangerous the NYPD’s new toys actually are, but at minimum, they represent another step in a very dangerous direction.

It’d be a real shame if the robots somehow ended up in a body of water somewhere, you know, by accident.

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  1. Bruce says

    If a police robot dog accidentally fell or walked off a dock into the East River, I would predict the robot would just walk downstream under water until they got to where they could just walk ashore and then walk back home, unless their power ran out first. But they’d be transmitting their location constantly, so they’d probably get rescued by the NYPD before that could happen. And then everyone would study the recordings of how the robot ended up under water, to make sure it never happened again. So, a waste of time.

  2. says

    @Bruce – I’ve yet to see evidence that they’re resilient to being submerged for an extended period of time, or that they’re able to navigate the muck on the bottom of a river.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    @Bruce – I think you may have the implied quote marks around the words “by accident”.

    On an unrelated note – these things are very intelligent to the point that they can walk over uneven terrain. That takes more intelligence than you think. However, while I’ve seen Boston Dynamics videos in which they deal with stony, uneven, snowy terrain, and even not falling over when being kicked, I’ve yet to see and have a hard time picturing one dealing gracefully with having a net thrown over it. I think even quite a light one would bring it down.

    Because of that, and other reasons, they’re never (or at least not soon) going to be deployed autonomously. They will ALWAYS be in the company of members the armed gang that runs the US, and will to all intents and purposes be simply another weapon those scum use to intimidate the public, like all the dogs, shotguns, rifles, handguns, sticks, gases, electroshock equiment and other stuff they use.

  4. says

    Because of that, and other reasons, they’re never (or at least not soon) going to be deployed autonomously.

    I suspect you’re right on that. It’ll certainly be much more effective to use it as support to an existing unit. Given the many stories about police knocking down the wrong door and being shot at by terrified residents, I could see robots being used as breach units, with the human cops following only after the shooting has died down.

  5. says

    Agreed on them not being alone.

    The one example I can think of in which a robot was used by cops was when they sent one in with a grenade to blow up a shooter in Dallas.

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