The long-awaited trailer for the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame” went viral last week. But before the wildly popular superhero franchise tries to bring back half of the universe’s living things from a dusty death, it raised questions about Big Brother government.
In 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Steve Rogers and other Avengers are put at odds with S.H.I.E.L.D., the secretive government agency they work with, over a program aimed to launch computerized gunships into the sky — all in the name of national security, of course.
In another superhero blockbuster, 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” Batman destroys his radar program mapping the city through cellphones after he’s confronted by his friend Lucius Fox, who objects to mass surveillance efforts.
The films touch on real-world concerns in the modern era, from President Barack Obama’s drone program to National Security Agency wiretapping. And while the “good guys” eventually steer away from Big Brother, life has not imitated art.
The NYPD recently said it purchased drones — a formality, as it has owned drones since at least last year. The NYPD also has spent $500,000 on these flying robots, which it promises won’t carry weapons or conduct warrantless searches (which means it will with a warrant).
The NYPD has bragged about its predictive policing program to map out future crimes and criminals. Combined with its controversial facial recognition technologies and Stingray cellphone spying and, the only thing rivaling the NYPD’s thirst for surveillance is its arrogance in never having to ask anyone for permission to do it.
The NYPD’s argument that drones will map out traffic incidents is laughable. It presents drones to the public as an answer to problems, like better video of accidents, the public didn’t know it had. While some might argue that drones are used by other police departments, not every city is like New York, with millions of residents and a history of systemic racial profiling and disregard for the law.
In fact, more cities will likely embrace drones because NYC has.
Mission creep concern is obvious. What’s not is how to put the brakes on a department dragging us into a sci-fi future. There are no Avengers to challenge the drone era in NYC. Perhaps the responsibility to rebut the drones rests on those of us who’ve marched against police abuse. We have one simple message: No.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist.