Apr 162013

dronevictimsAt last weekend’s convention, the California Democratic Party issued a resolution calling for an end to extrajudicial executions and the unlawful use of drones.  I wholeheartedly hope that Democratic politicians, both in California and other states, will put it into effect.

I thank resolution co-author California Democratic Party Chair John Burton as well as Resolutions Committee co-Chair and former California Senator Martha Escutia for their commitment to have this resolution reach the floor of the Convention, where it unanimously passed.  I also thank the other co-authors of the resolution, in particular Karen Bernal and Peter Leinau, for all the work they put into drafting it.  It was one of the most efficient and pleasurable drafting collaborations I’ve experienced.

You can see this and the other resolutions passed by the Party here.

Resolution to End Unlawful Drone Strikes, Extrajudicial Executions, and Restrict Domestic Drone Surveillance

WHEREAS, the U.S. government sets a dangerous precedent as it continues drone strikes and extrajudicial killings on people in countries with whom America is not at war, the majority being “signature drone strikes,” where operators fire upon groups of men whose identities are unknown, but who are deemed “targets” based on vaguely defined “suspicious behavior” or “signatures,” including being a male of “military age,” while also utilizing the unlawful and inhumane practice of “double taps,” where rescuers of victims of initial strikes are killed by a second strike; and

WHEREAS, our drone attacks result in the disproportionate killing of 36 to 50 civilians for every one alleged combatant and, given that the Geneva Conventions prohibit attacks that “may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life… excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated” during armed conflicts, and that the extrajudicial execution of any person, whether in peace or war time, is prohibited by International Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,  and knowing that the constant overhead presence of U.S. drones engenders hatred and desire for revenge among the communities under attack by terrorizing the daily lives of ordinary civilians beyond actual death and physical injury- destroying the culturally binding fabric of weddings, funerals, everyday community activities and the lives of children, many who are so traumatized they cannot go to school, and are unable to eat, sleep, play, socialize or function normally, which is a form of physiological torture and collective punishment prohibited by international law, all the while making the world and our nation less safe; and

WHEREAS, the current administration is directing the use of drones on American citizens by

1) authorizing the use of military drones to target and kill alleged  terrorists, including U.S. citizens who may not even be involved in operational plots to harm our nation, without recognizing the United States Constitutional guarantee of due process for all people, including those  accused of treason;  and

2) directing the FAA to create regulations enabling drones to fly throughout U.S. airspace including California by September 2015  for surveillance of individuals or groups in public spaces and in their homes, in direct violation of our Constitutional guarantee to privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the California Democratic Party stands in opposition to the extrajudicial killings and use of drones as described herein, both foreign and domestic, and urges that our policies be structured within the framework of international law, Constitutional checks and balances, due process, judicial review, and transparency; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon the Congressional delegation and the White House to:

1) Make public all claimed legal justifications of present policies and practices;

2) Conduct a fundamental re-evaluation and overhaul of current practices by reforming the policies authorizing the use of American military force, both foreign and domestic; and

3) Re-institute Congressional authority and oversight with regard to war making powers and federal law enforcement.


Authors: Karen Bernal, Margarita Lacabe, John Burton, Peter Leinau, Rick Tuttle

Mar 112013


Last Saturday, delegates to the California Democrats Convention from Region 5 (encompassing most of Alameda County, as well as western Contra Costa and northeastern Santa Clara counties) had a pre-convention meeting.  At the meeting, I introduced a resolution to have the California Democratic Party  urge Congress and the California Legislature to pass legislation requiring police to obtain a warrant before using drones for law enforcement purposes.  The resolution (see below for the text) was overwhelmingly approved by the delegates present at the meeting.  It now goes up to the state party’s Resolutions Committee for consideration – along with potentially hundreds of other resolutions passed by county committees, charted organizations and regional meetings or signed by multiple delegates throughout California.

The Resolutions Committee will bring a handful of the resolutions submitted to the floor at the Democratic Convention in April, where delegates to the Convention will vote on them (often by a voice vote, which gives those with louder, deeper voices and advantage!).  But if it passes, it will be a clear message to Democrats both in Sacramento and in Washington that people are concerned about the invasion of privacy that drones represent.

If the Resolutions Committee doesn’t bring this resolution to the floor, then we will need the signatures of 300 delegates present in Sacramento to bring it to the floor ourselves.  If you will be a delegate to the convention and want this resolution passed, please contact me so that I can get your signature if need be.   Please let other delegates to the convention know about this resolution as well!

Restricting the use of drones in law enforcement has become a particularly urgent matter for residents of Alameda County, as the county Sheriff is planning to acquire them and does not accept any privacy restrictions as to how to utilize them.  Absent a state law, law enforcement could use drones to monitor demonstrations, peek into people’s windows or take infrared pictures of homes through walls – among even more nefarious things.

Sadly, it’s been the libertarian branch of the Republican Party that has been most concerned about the unconstitutional use of drones.  But Democratic leaders are starting to see the dangers of this technology.  Earlier this year, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Silicon Valley) introduced legislation that would require warrants for the use of drones in law enforcement while state Senator Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley) introduced a spot bill to provide some state regulation on the use of drones.

Unfortunately, not all efforts to regulate drones are in good faith.  In Arizona, Republican lawmakers introduced legislation to both promote Arizona as a test-ground for drones and to require police to get warrants before using the drones, but almost immediately gutted the privacy aspects of the bill.   Assembly members  Jeff Gorell (R-Thousand Oaks) and Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles) may have a similar plan for California.  They’ve co-sponsored one bill that would provide financial incentives to drone-building companies locate in California and another that would place privacy limits in the use of drones both by public and private actors.   Both assemblymembers have taken contributions from drone manufacturers and Gorell is a former District Attorney and Navy Intelligence officer, so it seems unlikely they are actually concerned about the misuse of drones.

Find more information on drones at the websites of the ACLU and Alameda County Against Drones

Resolution Restricting Use of Drones for Domestic Surveillance

WHEREAS the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directs the FAA to create regulations that will enable drones to fly throughout U.S. airspace by September 2015 and small drones, 25 pounds or under, are now permitted to fly in general airspace below 400 feet for the use of police and first responders, with FAA permission; and

WHEREAS drones can be used for surveillance of individuals or groups in public spaces and in their homes, and police departments throughout the country have begun implementing drone technology; and

WHEREAS the California Constitution explicitly guarantees the right to privacy and the California and United States Constitutions guarantee the right to be free from unreasonable searches, and the rapid implementation of drone technology throughout the United States poses a potential threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people, including California residents;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the California Democratic Party calls on the United States Congress and the Legislature of California to adopt legislation restricting the use of drones for law enforcement purposes without a warrant.

CA previous version of this posting featured the resolution I originally proposed, before it was amended and voted upon by Region 5. This has now been corrected to show the resolution that was passed by Region 5 and submitted to the State Convention. I apologize for the error.

Margarita Lacabe, the author of San Leandro Talk, is a human rights activist, a member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee and a delegate to the California Democrats Convention.