A Predator drone operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection was reportedly spotted on radar flying over Minneapolis on Friday morning as protests roiled the city below following the death of George Floyd at the hands of local police officers.
The sighting of the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drone, the type which has been previously used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq in surveillance and combat missions against insurgents, was first reported by Project on Government Oversight reporter Jason Paladino. It was spotted on radar after leaving North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base.
The drone headed to Minneapolis and circled over the city at 20,000 feet, Paladino said. As of 10:15 a.m. PT on Friday, the drone had peeled away from the city to the north, Paladino and radar tracking apps reported.
A drone using the same call sign — CBP-104 — has been reported in flight logs from Customs and Border Protection, according to Vice’s Motherboard.
In a statement to Digital Trends, a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said the “unmanned aircraft system was preparing 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,” said the spokesperson in an email. “After arriving into the Minneapolis airspace, the requesting agency determined that the aircraft was no longer needed for operational awareness and departed back to Grand Forks.”
According to the agency’s statement, CBP often conduct operations such as this routinely to “assist law enforcement and humanitarian relief efforts.”
Minneapolis has been in turmoil since Floyd was killed in a police encounter on Monday. Video showed white Minneapolis police officers holding down Floyd — a Black man — during an arrest, with one officer kneeling into the back of Floyd’s neck. Floyd can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” He later died at an area hospital.
The death of another unarmed black man by police officers set off waves of condemnation and the four officers involved were fired. But protesters demanded the cops face criminal charges for killing Floyd. On Friday morning, fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — who had knelt on Floyd — was arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter. The other officers have not yet been arrested.
For several days, protesters have swarmed the city demanding justice, and were met by riot police and tear gas. Local businesses have been vandalized or broken into during the protests. During Thursday night’s protests, some people breached the police precinct where the officers involved had worked and burned it. The National Guard has since been mobilized to the area.
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