An unarmed Predator drone owned by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was spotted flying a loop around Minneapolis on Friday morning, in the aftermath of violent protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers. It was presumably surveying for further unrest.
The drone was first reported by investigative reporter Jason Paladino with the Project On Government Oversight. He used tools by the ADB-S Exchange, a community that utilizes open-source flight data, to spot the flight. A graphic from ADB-S shows the predator’s flight path as a near-perfect hexagon, 20,000 feet over the center of the city. The precision of the pattern is a telltale sign that the plane is a drone, Paladino told Vice Motherboard.
Seeing the same type of drone used in combat missions in Afghanistan now flying over a US city caused a stir in Washington, with Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeting, “This is what happens when leaders sign blank check after blank check to militarize police, CBP, etc while letting violence go unchecked.”
Now @VICE reporting that @CBP is sending predator drones over #GeorgeFloyd protests in Minneapolis.
This is what happens when leaders sign blank check after blank check to militarize police, CBP, etc while letting violence go unchecked.
We need answers. And we need to defund. https://t.co/tfBZFRNI9G
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 29, 2020
A history of predator drones in the US
True to its mission, CBP typically uses such drones to patrol border regions. This model, CBP-104, has a history going back to at least 2012, reports Motherboard. Its duties have included surveilling the US-Mexico border as well as helping to bust cannabis-grow operations and methamphetamine labs. But unmanned predators have also surveilled other activities within the US. In 2012, for instance, Homeland Security flew a predator to surveil the property of a cattle rancher involved in a 16-hour standoff with another rancher.
The deployment of military technology — and the backlash it’s caused — illustrate the seriousness of matters in Minneapolis. Unrest follows the death of George Floyd, an African-American man, at the hands of four white police officers. Video captured the death, in which officers are holding Floyd down. One pushes his knee against Floyd’s neck as the man pleads for help, exclaiming that he can’t breathe. The four officers have been fired, and one who pushed his knee into Floyd has been arrested.