A hardy few concerned citizens spent the early afternoon on Super Bowl Sunday opposing the domestic use of unmanned aerial drones, which at least one opponent billed as “killer robots.”
Activist David Swanson, who helped to organize the rally, said he was hoping people would turn out for tonight’s Charlottesville City Council meeting, where a resolution calling on the state and federal governments to limit the use of drones will be up for consideration.
He is also hoping Albemarle County will pass an anti-drone resolution, he said.
To punctuate his argument, Swanson had a giant model of a drone set up on a stick near the Free Speech Chalkboard on the Downtown Mall.
Swanson said he expects three city councilors -- Dave Norris, Dede Smith and Satyendra Huja -- to be supportive of the resolution and is hopeful a fourth, Kristin Szakos, might be won over fairly easily.
Ryan Whitcomb of Charlottesville, who was also at the rally, said drones are “obviously wrong” because they’re deadly robots.
“Most people are against killer robots,” he said. “I feel like that’s been ingrained in us since the '80s.”
Swanson said concerns about drones include safety issues, such as crashing, and privacy concerns.
“These are concerns coming from the left and the right,” he said.
He added that the way drones are used abroad, including concerns about their use against Americans and collateral damage, also is worrisome.
“A government that would target and kill an American abroad would target and kill an American at home,” Swanson said.
Swanson said concerns about drones are part of a larger concern about the use of military technology for civilian law enforcement.
“There’s this trend toward looking at the public as sort of a low-grade enemy,” he said.
Drones are increasingly at the center of public discussion, Swanson said, pointing to a recent Time magazine cover.
It’s important to get the policy in front of the technology, and not the other way around, he said.
The local discussion was largely sparked by the Albemarle County-based Rutherford Institute, which has called on local governments to oppose the drones and provided wording for a resolution to the City Council, as well as to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.
Swanson said foot traffic past the Free Speech Chalkboard was light Sunday, but he was doing his best.
“I’ve had a few really good conversations with some people,” he said.
Swanson pointed to a two-year moratorium on drones currently being considered in the General Assembly.
“This is the time to speak up, not after the skies are full of them,” he said.
Virginia Rovnyak, who attended Sunday's rally, said she opposes the police-type uses that Swanson is worried about, but also wants to head off commercial use of drones.
“I think having drones running around, whether they’re police or commercial, is a terrible idea,” Rovnyak, of Albemarle, said.