To the editor:
I am writing in response to Andrew Reed ’21’s defense of Warren Kanders ’79 P’23 . Reed argued against calls for the University to remove Kanders from positions of influence at Brown and to reject any future donations from him. Reed’s premise is that criticism of Kanders is unfair because his involvement in Safariland cannot be directly tied to the improper use of its products to suppress protests.
But the question at large has never been whether Safariland’s tear gas was used improperly. The question is, rather, why Brown continues to associate with an individual who profits from the sale of a weapon used to harm people. Tear gas is a chemical weapon that is banned from use in war. Reed considers tear gas a necessary tool for law enforcement agencies to disperse crowds and respond to violent protests. In explaining his point, he brings up a hypothetical Charlottesville-like situation where white supremacists are marching to a synagogue.
Let us think back to Charlottesville. Angry white men with tiki torches marched onto the University of Virginia’s campus. They marched on the streets of Charlottesville and were met with resistance only from anti-fascist protestors. By the end of the day, one protestor had died after a white supremacist rammed his car into the crowd. This is not an example of disproportionate force employed against unruly protesters. Rather, this is an example of no force employed at all. Police and law enforcement respond inconsistently to different protests – they are more violent and brutal when the protestors are brown and black. Ferguson in 2014 saw more tear gas than Charlottesville did three years later. Tear gas is not a weapon that targets everyone equally – it is used to quash dissent of black, brown and indigenous voices globally.
Institutions in the United States, including Brown, have recognized when companies and individuals have done harm and have sought to disassociate themselves. The most evident example is Brown’s redirection of funds from the Sackler family for their involvement in fueling the opioid crisis. Brown recently announced that it would donate the money it had received from the family to programs tackling the crisis and that it would refuse further donations. Why was there such a disparate response? Why was there no controversy in this case? It is because, even though this crisis has touched all corners of America, the victims are perceived as middle-class white people.
If we recognize harm when it occurs to white, middle class Americans and hold people to account – then the same standard should apply across the board.
Abdullah Shihipar, MPH ’20