Four National Guard spy planes were deployed to several cities this summer to monitor protests after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, including affluent Sacramento suburb El Dorado Hills, home to California national guard head, Major General David S. Baldwin, the LA Times reports.
While protests against state violence sparked across the nation, leading to more police brutality as law enforcement attacked protesters, the reconnaissance planes were also sent to Minneapolis, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., locations that “drew hundreds or thousands of protesters.”
This was not the case in quiet El Dorado Hills, which has led authorities to question how—and why—Baldwin’s neighborhood was chosen as a location for the use of excessive surveillance.
“El Dorado Hills was the most monitored place in California,” said Dan Woodside, a recently retired Guard pilot who has flown the RC-26B. “Why was that? What was the threat? They are absolutely covering this up.”
Nathan Click, a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, issued a statement Saturday criticizing the operation.
“The use of the RC-26 to meet the sheriff’s request for aerial support to provide situational awareness for law enforcement is concerning and should not have happened,” Click said. “It was an operational decision made without the approval — let alone awareness — of the governor. After the incident, operational policies and protocols were reaffirmed and strengthened to ensure RC-26 aircraft are not used for these incidents again.”
The presence of the spy plane reportedly grew out of a “high priority” request by the state Office of Emergency Services, made on behalf of the El Dorado [Hills] sheriff’s office,” the LA Times reports. Baldwin claims that he cannot remember whether or not he recommended or approved the request because “there was a lot going on.”
While the National Guard, and some media outlets, appear to be concerned about why El Dorado Hills was selected for the aerial show of state force—because larger protests were reportedly “marred by vandalism and theft” and it appears that Baldwin may have abused his power—the framing of the issue prioritizes property over people.
The Bigger Picture
The deployment of the spy planes was not only a potential intelligence gathering operation of U.S. citizens, primarily Black and Brown citizens, it was a blatant intimidation tactic that has injured at least one person.
The ACLU has filed a complaint on behalf of protester Dzhuliya Dashtamirova, 23, who was injured by a military helicopter flying low over a crowd during a June 1 protest in Washington D.C.
“It’s called a rotor wash, a tactic that the military employs to disperse groups of insurgents,” ACLU attorney Michael Perloff said. “To our knowledge, this has never been used to disperse peaceful protesters in the United States and we don’t think there’s ever a circumstance that it should be used in that context. There’s no reason for militarized responses to be employed against people exercising their most fundamental rights, and that’s exactly what happened here.”