To the Editor:

Today, I just found out that the Westfield Police are using drones to enforce town park closings with a siren and recorded message despite the fact that they will be reopening town parks for limited use on May 2nd. I do not know what the ones in Westfield say, but I assume the verbiage is similar to the ones deployed in Elizabeth, that tell you to “STOP gathering, disperse, and go home.” Stop gathering and disperse?

Isn’t that what riot police used to only say in physically hostile environments with imminent bodily harm present to the greater community? Or, what totalitarian dictatorships like Venezuela’s Maduro say before shooting starving, unarmed protesters? And communist regimes, like what was done by Prime Minister Peng’s troops in China during the Tiananmen Square massacre before opening fire and “disappearing” unarmed peaceful protestors literally standing in front of tanks?

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Can anyone not see that our freedom to assemble and our First Amendment rights are permanently being trampled all over again in our harried rush for temporary safety? Don’t get me wrong. Personally, my family and I had invoked self-isolation and social distancing as soon as medical experts we respect said it was the wise and cautious thing to do. We have also not entered a place of business nor an enclosed public space going on almost two months now.

We shop online exclusively for all our needs and to support our town’s small businesses, we order home delivery from them or direct delivery to the trunks of our cars. However, we made these personal choices to limit our freedoms on our own for the greater good of protecting our family’s health as well as for the benefit of all other socially responsible people in our society. For the past few weeks, in several states, there have been occasions where people have peacefully assembled to protest against their state governments.

They have demanded that their civil liberties and constitutional rights not be walked all over in the name of health safety. Despite these concerns, a few weeks ago, Governor Murphy publicly stated, “Please don’t wake up on Monday morning and behave differently. We’ll tell you when you can behave differently.” Yet, not one conventional news agency singled out this authoritarian comment nor its implications. I am not one to overreact, but if these are not the signs of a dictatorial police state potentially fomenting at the expense of our civil liberties, then I do not know what is with this scary trend throughout our Executive branches at all levels of government.

Our own Mayor Brindle was so flippant in the new, policing use of drones that she felt announcing it as a passing comment buried in the virtual April 28th Town Council meeting in the fourth bullet point of the Local Updates was sufficient. After this health crisis passes, are Westfield Police drones going to be repurposed for the next money sucking endeavor dreamed up to replace the lost revenues of the parking meter tickets after the meter police’s predacious methods were called out a couple of years ago by both local business owners and residents?

Maybe the town will arm them with tasers or real guns like a miniature U.S. Military Predator drone so our police can fight crime remotely from the climate controlled comfort of the police station and their eight way adjustable, orthopedically correct desk chairs? Maybe they can be used to spy on Jaywalkers from above and subsequently “airmail” them a ticket from an onboard printing device? Taking out well-known terrorists or hostile, fortified encampments with military drones has even been called into question by some, so why should the use of these miniaturized Westfield predator drones on its own residents ever be acceptable unless we now have also been labeled enemies of the state?

Well Westfield government and police, I hate to break it to you, but as far as I can tell, you are breaking multiple federal laws. Given what I could source from the FAA for drone operator classification, as far as I can tell, you fall into the commercial classification. With this being the case, some or all of the FAA regulations you are breaking are the following; keeping the drone within physical sight of the operator at all times, keeping drones from flying over people not involved in their operation, and limiting drone operations to the hours from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset. Stop it now please as the ultimate Big Brother is watching; your electorate.

After 9/11, with our shocked population both reeling from our losses combined with a short term surge in patriotism, the Patriot Act was swiftly passed a little over a month later with lots of bilateral support. Despite it supposedly being a temporary necessity, it is now over 18 years since and many parts of it have continued to fester both legally and illegally. The most infamous progeny, Stellar Winds, a warrantless domestic surveillance program secretly supported by both the Bush and Obama Administrations, only came to light because of Edward Snowden and look where that got him.

Are we now going to stand by and let our local government perform illegal searches and worse with drones when even traffic light cameras are illegal in New Jersey? Everyone should think about what Benjamin Franklin, the man dubbed as “The First American” said: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Put Westfield Police and government on the no-fly list now, also a product of the Patriot Act, and hold on dearly to what little liberties we have left.

Sincerely,

Aaron Turnof
Westfield, NJ