We all know it costs a lot of money to sit on the board of a major art museum, so naturally the question becomes: where does that money come from? In the case of one trustee of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the answer is selling high-grade weapons to police departments and militaries.
The trustee in question is Warren B. Kanders, who serves as a vice chairman of the Whitney’s board, and the connection was made by Anna Feigenbaum writing in Al Jazeera America (AJAM) last month (and called to our recent attention by Art F City). In an opinion piece written in the wake of the police killing of Freddie Gray, Feigenbaum argues:
Riot control is — and always has been — about criminalizing acts of disobedience by controlling people, public space and even the air we breathe. The disturbing forms of policing we see in Baltimore provide a small window into a sprawling, transnational business with roots in colonialist violence.
She goes on to claim that one of the companies providing militarized gear to the Baltimore Police Department is Defense Technology, a brand of the Safariland Group, which is owned by Kanders. And indeed, a Jacksonville.com report notes that Kanders acquired Safariland in 2012 for roughly $124 million; he also owned it once before for 12 years, when he was the chairman of Armor Holdings.
In a stroke of supreme irony, Safariland touts a “legacy of saving lives” on its website. Among the products offered by the Defense Technology® brand are “Distraction Device® Units” such as the Stinger® 32-Caliber Rubber Balls w/Safety Clip — “a maximum effect device that delivers three stimuli for psychological and physiological effects: rubber pellets, light, and sound”; very large “OC aerosols,” aka pepper spray canisters (the header on this page shows a cop coolly wearing sunglasses and liberally shooting off pepper spray); a whole range of “chemical agent devices” for “when crowd resistance elevates“; and an assortment of WallBanger™ breaching tools, accompanied by a photo of a heavily armored sheriff blasting through a wall.
But fear not! Defense Technology offers “a complete range of the industry’s most trusted less lethal products.” Less lethal … but still able to kill you.
A post on the Ratter provides further evidence of the use of Defense Technology products by police during the Baltimore uprising, and another AJAM piece by Feigenbaum argues that the brand is “well represented in Ferguson’s policing arsenal” too. A site called Facing Tear Gas has a preliminary attempt to track the use of these Defense Technology products around the world, finding them in Egypt, Palestine, and Oakland, California, among other places. (More on that here.)
Facing Tear Gas calls Kanders a “war profiteer,” which, despite the legality of his business, is probably how most people perceive what he does. He makes money off of the increasing militarization of the US police, and then he gives that money — some of it, anyway — to a major art museum. Welcome to life in the nonprofit industrial complex.