An ethical debate has emerged after a sniper was killed by a police robot after shooting 12 Dallas police officers, killing five of them, and seriously wounding the other seven, along with two civilians, during a Black Lives Matter protest.
The Peaceful Part
For two hours last Thursday night, nearly 800 people and 100 police officers were gathered in the same place at the same time and getting along just fine. The event itself was a peaceful protest rally and march in downtown Dallas. Police chatted with participants, participants took pictures with police. Police were there to protect participants, and the participants exercised their right to protest by marching along the designated route. And it was peaceful. Until it wasn’t.
The Murderous Part
Just before 9 p.m., after two full hours of peace, a lone gunman turned sniper and began shooting at police officers. Civilians scattered. Police officers placed themselves in front of civilians, protecting them from getting shot. They ran toward the danger, toward the gunshots. They “exposed themselves to draw fire” in order to identify where the shots were coming from.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown shared many details of acts of bravery exercised by the Dallas police officers, and testimony from civilians present. A mother whose life was saved because an officer put himself between bullets and her and her sons told how grateful she is to him. “The officer got on top of me and covered me and my son,” she told the press tearfully.
Dr. Brian Williams, one of the trauma surgeons who worked on the police officers that night, shared his thoughts, and a sentiment felt by many.
“I think about it every day that I was unable to save those cops when they came here that night,” he said. “It weighs on my mind constantly. This killing it has to stop.”
The Ethical Debate Part
There are those who complain when a murderer gets killed. They complain even louder when that murderer is killed by police, as if police involvement changes the fact that a sniper with a gun who is shooting and killing people needs to be stopped for the safety of all those who are around.
When Jake Tapper asked Dallas Police Chief David Brown if there was any way the situation could have been handled differently and the sniper not been killed at all, or in the way he was stopped with the police robot, Chief Brown was very straightforward in his answer.
“I just don’t give much quarter to critics who ask these types of questions from the comfort and safety away from the incident. You have to be on the ground. It’s their lives that are at stake, not these critics’ lives who are in the comforts of their homes or offices.”
There are only a couple points of ethical debate that have been raised surrounding the police use of a robot to kill a killer last week.
- That it was a robot first “weaponized” to be used in a military setting.
- A concern that it was not under human control (and that it not turn into a Terminator-like artificial intelligence autonomous object).
The Robot Part
Robots are a great advantage to military and law enforcement in terms of determining if shooters are hiding, where they are hiding, how many there are, if there are bombs around, and dismantling or destroying said bombs — all things that save human life. The fact that some, given their job duties, are weaponized, only makes them safer for the operators. The fact that they all have operators is an important distinction — they are always under human control.
Robots and robotics have been part of our lives for years, and that will only continue to grow, as USA Today reported. How many of our households have electronic toys or even Roomba vacuum cleaners in them, at this very moment?
For those getting shot at, and those who were spared, there is a feeling of relief that this killer was stopped.
“While it’s premature to judge exactly what happened, it certainly seems likely that this ended a tragedy that could have been far worse,” said Michael Kalichman, director of the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology. That does not take away the thoughts and open doors of where the use of robots, police robots, military robots, or bomb robots could go from here.
However, when the peaceful Black Lives Matter event took an ugly, deadly turn, we can be thankful someone like Dallas Police Chief David Brown had the wherewithal to allow a police robot to be used — when it was determined there was no other safe way to reach the killer — to stop the sniper who had already shot at and killed civilians and police officers.
The “all lives matter” statement is not a flippant one; all lives really do matter. When Gracie Hart said she really did want world peace in Miss Congeniality, she spoke for most of us. Now we all have to figure out how to work together to make that happen.
[Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images]