An original version of this story was posted on 7/20/19. It was updated on 7/30/19 to include new information.
In a sustained week of mass protests, thousands of Puerto Ricans stormed the streets of San Juan on Wednesday, July 17, demanding the resignation of the unincorporated US territory’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló. The protesters were met with police violence, including the use of tear gas. According to a report by the Nation, the tear gas used against the demonstrators is allegedly manufactured by Safariland Group, a company helmed by the Whitney Museum’s embattled vice chair, Warren B. Kanders.
Since Sunday, July 14, an estimated 500,000 Puerto Ricans marched the streets of San Juan in outrage over a leaked group chat in which Governor Rosselló and his inner circle exchanged homophobic, misogynistic, and vengeful comments against political rivals and ordinary citizens. Two ministers who were involved in the chat have resigned, but Puerto Rico’s political head remains defiant.
The rallies, which were largely peaceful and artist-led, escalated on Wednesday as protesters stormed through a barricade at the governor’s mansion, known as La Fortaleza. Security forces responded with tear gas, causing many to disperse into surrounding streets. According to the Miami Herald, police also shot rubber bullets at the crowd, injuring protestors and journalists. Police forces have also used tear gas against protestors on Monday, the third day of consecutive protests.
On Friday, April 27, the coalition of grassroots organizations led by Decolonize this Place dedicated the sixth installment of their Nine Weeks of Art and Action at the Whitney Museum to the plight of Puerto Ricans. Members of the Puerto Rican activist group Comité Boricua En La Diaspora alleged at the protest gathering that Safariland’s tear gas canisters were used against Puerto Ricans at the May Day protests of 2018.
Earlier today, July 20, Hyperallergic reported that the London-based research group Forensic Architecture found new evidence that directly links Safariland to violence against protestors at the boundary between Gaza and Israel. As a result, the group withdrew from the 2019 Whitney Biennial, raising the number of artists who withdrew from the exhibition in the past few two days to eight.
Update 7/30/19: Ricardo Rosselló announced his resignation on Wednesday, July 24, in a statement posted online. The governor’s decision to step down came after two weeks of unprecedentedly large protests on the island.
After listing his administration’s accomplishments, Rosselló said, “I feel that to continue in this position would make it difficult for the success that I have achieved to endure.” The governor said that he has “heard the people” and will hence step down on Friday, August 2. Rosselló announced Wanda Vázquez, the secretary of justice, as his successor. “I hope this decision serves as a call to citizen reconciliation,” he said about his resignation.
Vázquez is now the target of protests in Puerto Rico. In a protest held on Monday, July 29, protesters demanded that Vázquez’s appointment as governor be nullified, claiming she’s implicated in government corruption scandals. The protestors demand she steps down from her current position as well. Vázquez, a member of Rosselló’s New Progressive Party, was accused by parliament members of impeding investigations relating to members of her party. In November 2018, she was briefly suspended from her post after facing allegations that she had interfered in a criminal case involving her daughter and son-in-law.
Artist, activist, and writer Molly Crabapple tweeted pictures from Monday’s protests showing rubber “stinger” bullets produced by Defense Technology Corporation, a subsidiary of Safariland Group. “I was visiting the home of some young protesters,” Crabapple told Hyperallergic in an email. “They had picked the cartridge off of the street last Monday at the protests (in front of Fortaleza) and gave it to me to photograph,” she explained. Crabapple added that the protester found other munitions produced by the company.