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.