News & Politics

Tear Gas, Stun Grenades, Sound Cannons: Companies Profiting From Police Crackdowns Like Ferguson

Sales of all those military grade weapons are making people rich.

The tear-gas, rubber bullets and smoke bombs fired in Ferguson, Missouri have fed outrage over police militarization in the U.S. In response to the shocking images, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said, “We need to de-militarize this situation.” Journalists reporting live on the demonstrations sparked by the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown expressed befuddlement as to why the police needed high-caliber weapons better suited for war zones than protests in an American city.

But one group of people is decidedly happy about the militarized response in Ferguson: those who work in the weapons industry. The array of police forces--the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the St. Louis county and city police and local Ferguson officers--that descended on the largely black Missouri city have used the products these corporations are selling in abundance. Tear gas, rubber bullets, smoke bombs, stun grenades, armored personnel carriers, sound cannons and high-caliber rifles have all been deployed to quell the unrest, though they have contributed to anger over police tactics.

The police response is the perfect showcase for the companies that manufacture military equipment for law enforcement use. They can point to the police tactics to sell their products to other law enforcement agencies preparing for demonstrations. And in Missouri, the police’s massive use of armaments like tear gas mean that their stock is becoming depleted and they will need to re-up their purchases. These companies will profit from the tension in Ferguson, and could fuel even greater militarization of the police, a trend that began with the war on drugs and has accelerated in recent years with the advent of the war on terror.

The companies getting mileage out of the unrest in Ferguson are vast. The LRAD Corporation manufactures the long-range acoustic devices that have emitted piercing noises at protesters in Missouri. These sound devices can cause headaches and other types of pain. The police in Ferguson are also using the Bearcat armored truck manufactured by Lenco. That vehicle, costing $360,000, was paid for with Department of Homeland Security grant money, according to the New York Times. Since 2003, over $9 million in grants from Homeland Security have flowed to police in St. Louis, according to the Times. Overall, since the September 11 terror attacks, $34 billion in such grants have been given to law enforcement agencies across the country, showing it is the federal government fueling police militarization.

The Ferguson police department has received two armored Humvees, a generator and a trailer from the U.S. military, according to the Associated Press. Police departments around the nation have received the military’s surplus equipment, which has brought weapons used in Afghanistan and Iraq to local towns and cities. Congress first passed a law authorizing the funneling of surplus military equipmentto domestic law enforcement in 1990. It’s now known as the 1033 program, referring to the section of the program in the Pentagon budget.

The Justice Department has also gotten in on the action. Justice Department grants have paid for tear gas and rubber bullets, though it’s not clear if police in Ferguson used those grants to buy their own tear gas.

Whoever paid for it, the companies that make tear-gas are sure to benefit from the Ferguson demonstrations. Two corporations’ tear-gas products have been fired on demonstrators in recent days: Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) and Defense Technology. CTS, headquartered in Pennsylvania, is well-known for being a leading supplier of tear gas around the world, including to the governments of Israel, Egypt and Bahrain, which buy the weapons with the generous amounts of U.S. military aid given to them. Defense Technology, also based in Pennsylvania, has likewise profited from tear gas sold to Israel, Egypt and Bahrain, in addition to Yemen, Turkey and Tunisia.

Yet another company that will profit from the tensions in Missouri is Taser International. In the days since the shooting of Michael Brown, the company’s stock has risen 28 percent, CNN reported.According to the news outlet, the key reason its stock has risen is because of expectations that the images of police brutality and excess will lead to body cameras—a product Taser International makes—being outfitted on cops there.

Many of the corporations’ products that are being turned on protesters in Ferguson will be put on display next month—in Missouri. From September 17-19, a Military Police Expo will take place in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. “The Expo will provide opportunity for vendors to showcase their products and services to Military Police Soldiers, senior leaders and key decision makers...In addition, civilian law enforcement and Chiefs of Police will also be invited to attend,” the event’s website explains. Vendors participating include Combined Tactical Systems, Taser International, LRAD, L-3 Warrior Systems and many others.

The purpose of the convention is to “get these businesses in front of some of these government entities,” Chalette Davis, an exhibit hall manager for eventPower, which is planning the expo, told AlterNet.

It’s unclear how many of the civilian law enforcement agencies firing militarized weapons in Ferguson will be on hand. But at least one, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, will be there as a vendor. In addition to that role, it’s likely the patrol will be checking out the weaponry on display. “A lot of business is done that way,” said Davis.

Meanwhile, organizers committed to ending police militarization plan to continue their fight against the trend. In early September, Oakland will play host to Urban Shield, a Department of Homeland Security-funded annual event. Urban Shield features a trade show that armaments companies participate in, as well as law enforcement training exercises to practice halting terrorism.

But a coalition of groups, including the War Resisters League, are gearing up to greet the event with a week of protest and education against Urban Shield. It’s the type of activism bound to get worldwide attention given the Ferguson protests and the debate the police response has sparked over militarization.

“People across the U.S. are waking up to police militarization," Ali Issa, an organizer with the War Resisters League, said in a statement. “The growing cross-community movement against it means that days are numbered for programs like Department of Defense's 1033 and Department of Homeland Security's Urban Shield."

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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