U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) flew a predator drone, used to hunt down terrorists, over Minneapolis on Friday, May 29, amid intensifying protests and unrest in the city over the killing of George Floyd.

Predator Drone
An MQ-1 Predator drone on a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. Wikimedia Commons

A flight-tracking tool revealed that an aircraft labelled "CBP104" took to the skies of Minneapolis on Friday and hovered over the embattled city. Jason Paladino, of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, later pointed out that the drone, identified with the call sign CBP-104, took off from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

He also noted that the drone flew over Minneapolis at an altitude of 20,000 feet in a hexagonal flight path for a duration of around two hours before heading back north.

State of Emergency in Minneapolis

The drone was dispatched as protests and riots erupted across the city in the wake of Floyd's death, escalating tensions between citizens and law enforcement in the city. Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, on Tuesday, May 26 after he knelt over the 46-year-old African-American man's neck for several minutes, as previously reported by International Business Times.

Scenes of the city in flames have started flooding social media after rioters set fire to a precinct belonging to the Minneapolis Police Department, in addition to an apartment building and other establishments across the city. The unrest has prompted Governor Tim Walz to ask the US National Guard to step in and has declared a state of emergency in the city.

CBP Releases Statement

The CBP issued a statement saying the drone was dispatched "to provide live video to aid in situational awareness at the request of our federal law enforcement partners in Minneapolis.

"The unmanned aircraft system provides live video feed to ground law enforcement, giving them situational awareness, maximizing public safety, while minimizing the threat to personnel and assets," the agency noted before pointing out that after entering Minneapolis airspace, law enforcement told CBP that the aircraft was no longer necessary.

Predator Drones Used to Hunt, Kill Terrorists

Although the CPB104 drone was unarmed, the same type of remotely-piloted aircraft has been used to monitor and kill suspected terrorists in other countries. These drones are equipped with powerful cameras designed to capture clear video from as far up as 25,000 feet in the air and are capable of remaining airborne for dozens of hours.

Criticism from Civil Rights Advocates, Homeland Security Committee

The CBP faced criticism from civil rights advocates for flying the surveillance drone over the city and hunting down protesters with excessive use of military technology.

"No government agency should be facilitating the over-policing of the Black community, period. And CBP has no role in what's happening in Minneapolis at all," ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement.

"This rogue agency's use of military technology to surveil protesters inside US borders is deeply disturbing, especially given CBP's lack of clear and strong policies to protect privacy and constitutional rights. This agency's use of drones over the city should be halted immediately," she added.

The committee that oversees Homeland Security as well as the CBP also tweeted, "This drone should not have been deployed. The government response to Minneapolis must not be militaristic. We will be calling for answers."