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David Swanson

David Swanson is a longtime peace and justice activist and author of 'War Is a Lie'

February 5th, 2013 12:44 AM

First U.S. City Passes Anti-Drone Resolution

Shortly after 11 p.m. on Monday, February 4th, the City Council of Charlottesville, Va., passed what is believed to be the first anti-drone resolution in the country.  According to my notes, and verifiable soon on the City Council's website, the resolution reads:

WHEREAS, the rapid implementation of drone technology throughout the United States poses a serious threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people, including the residents of Charlottesville; and

WHEREAS, the federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia have thus far failed to provide reasonable legal restrictions on the use of drones within the United States; and

WHEREAS, police departments throughout the country have begun implementing drone technology absent any guidance or guidelines from law makers;

NOW, THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, endorses the proposal for a two year moratorium on drones in the state of Virginia; and calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court, and precluding the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel devices, meaning any projectile, chemical, electrical, directed-energy (visible or invisible), or other device designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being; and pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones.

The same City Council passed a resolution on January 17, 2012, calling for an end to drone wars, as well as ground wars, excessive military spending, and any possible attack on Iran.

(Photo by Ted Strong of Daily Progress)

The wording of Monday's resolution comes largely from a draft suggested by the Rutherford institute. An initial line was deleted and two amendments were made to the final paragraph, one endorsing a two-year moratorium on drones (something that had passed in committee in both houses of the Virginia legislature as of Saturday in the House and Monday in the Senate), the other committing the City not to use drones for surveillance or assault.

The wording was not as comprehensive as the draft that had appeared in the City Council's official agenda for Monday's meeting, a draft I had authored.  See it here in the city agenda or on my website

At the previous meeting of the City Council on January 7, 2013, I and a few other residents had spoken in support of a resolution, and three of the five city council members agreed to put it on the agenda for the February 4th meeting.  Some of the public comments were excellent, and the video of the meeting is on the city's website

On Monday, citizens speaking in favor of the anti-drone resolution dominated the public speaking period at the beginning of the meeting, shortly after 7 p.m.  Many were quite eloquent, and the video will be available soon on the city's site.  The council members did not discuss and vote on the matter until shortly after 11 p.m.  The discussion was quite brief, coming on the heels of hours devoted to other matters. 

The same three city council members who had put the item on the agenda voted in favor of the resolution, passing it by a vote of 3-2.  They were Dave Norris, Dede Smith, and Satyendra Sing Huja.  Norris and Smith negotiated the slight improvements to the Rutherford Institute's draft with Huja, who initially favored passing that draft as it was written.  Norris and Smith favored banning the City from purchasing drones, but Council Member Kristin Szakos argued that there might be a positive use for a drone someday, such as for the fire department.  Kathy Galvin joined Szakos in voting No.

Norris has been a leader on the City Council for years and sadly will not be running for reelection at the end of his current term.

Following the January meeting, I submitted my draft to the city, asked people to phone and email the council members, published a column in the local daily newspaper, and organized an event in front of City Hall on Sunday, the day before the vote.  Anti-drone activist John Heuer from North Carolina delivered a giant model drone produced by New York anti-drone activist Nick Mottern.  Our little stunt produced coverage on the two television channels and in the newspaper.  I asked people to commit to attending the meeting on a FaceBook page.  The room ended up packed, and when I asked those who supported the resolution to stand, most of the room did so.

No organized pro-drone lobby ever developed.  We met and confronted the argument that localities shouldn't lobby states or Washington.  And, of course, some people are opposed to drones in the United States but eager to see them used however the President may see fit abroad.  Charlottesville's City Council ended up not including the section in my draft that instructed the federal government to end its practice of extrajudicial killing.  But there was no discussion on that point, and several other sections, including one creating a local ordinance, were left out as well.  The problem there, according to Smith, was that "we don't own the air."

Yet, we should. And Oregon is attempting to do so with its draft state legislation.

In the past, Charlottesville has passed resolutions that have inspired other localities and impacted federal and state policies.  Let us hope this one is no exception.

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