Armored vehicle manufacturers are especially sensitive to suggestions that their vehicles will be used against protesters, even though that is exactly how they were used in Ferguson, Missouri, after a white police officer gunned down Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager.
The Armored Group LLC was recently present at Urban Shield, an annual trade show and training exercise in Alameda County, California, supported by law enforcement and security agencies at the local, state and federal level.
A representative for the manufacturer was asked by Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer why police would use the manufacturer’s armored vehicles against protesters.
At first, Bauer sent out a message on Twitter reporting that he had an exchange. “The Armored Group representative said police need these trucks for protests because protesters might shoot at cops,” Bauer reported.
The armored vehicle manufacturer’s Twitter account hit back, “Not true at all. Completely disingenuous for you to insinuate that.” To which Bauer replied, “Very true actually. There is a video in the works that shows the representative saying this quite clearly.”
Only two minutes after this, the company went from a flat denial to an attempt to rationalize what it thought had been said.
“The exact circumstances for the use of our vehicle is up to particular police department policy, however, we are not aware of any police agency, who has a policy deploying armored vehicles for peaceful protest situations,” the Armored Group claimed.
The armored vehicle manufacturer also defended their representative by maintaining he did not say police need armored vehicles to shoot people firing guns from within protests. “He said that’s not what he said, so we stand behind him, obviously,” the company tweeted.
Here is a transcript of what was said about people firing guns from protests:
BAUER: What would be the purpose of using something like this in a crowd control kind of scenario?
TAG REP: I think—(sigh)—what I’ve seen, a lot of guys if they’re called out to there, it all depends on what the situation is. Is it violent? Is there a threat of violence? Like I said, if there’s a threat of violence and maybe shots are already fired, maybe they know there’s a group of people involved in the protest that may look innocent, which is great, but they may know there’s guys always looking at that for an opportunity to be bad.
BAUER: Like they might shoot guns or something?
TAG REP: They could. They could be waiting for you to do that. And no one wants to think about it, but it happens. We’ve seen it. And as you mentioned over in Baghad it’s different—
BAUER: Where has it happened where there’s guns being shot from protests?
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TAG REP: Well, I mean, I’ll let you go back to the news footage for that. There’s all sorts of different options. You know, I can’t sit here and rattle them off.
The company’s Twitter account reacted, “This audio has our [representative] saying our armored vehicle may be called out after people have started shooting at officers,” and, “Of course, an armored rescue vehicle may be called out after police have been shot at. That is what it’s designed for.”
Also, the company insisted the representative had said “maybe shots are already fired,” which meant the vehicle was not there patrolling the protest already. It was Bauer that “insinuated” the representative said the “vehicle would be used for protests,” not the representative himself.
Yet, armored vehicles were immediately deployed in Ferguson against protests, particularly after August 10 when a few incidents of looting and property damage took place. They were not brought out to respond to shots fired but were there all throughout demonstrations because of some perceived threat.
It should be considered remarkable that the armored vehicle manufacturer panicked when met with the possibility that their representative had said police need their vehicles for use against protests. Companies like The Armored Group are worried after Ferguson about the public perception of their products being deployed by police against US civilians exercising their First Amendment rights.
The Ferguson police department was very concerned about all the media interest in whether the department’s military-grade equipment was being used. They put out a press release on August 20 to clarify that the armored tanks, tear gas and riot gear was under the enforcement of the Missouri Highway Patrol and St. Louis County, not their department.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles even stated, “The public perception seems to be that our officers are engaged with protestors when they are not. Our officers are working in the rest of Ferguson providing community policing support to our residents and businesses.”
Similarly, The Armored Group is well-aware that this public perception is toxic to its bottom line. It could cost them a current or future sale to a city, county or state police department. The company does not want any representative of theirs talking about armored vehicles and protests in the same sentence.
The company has facilities in the United States, Canada, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Its headquarters in the US are in Detroit. It “supplies SUV ballistic vehicles, SWAT vehicles and armored vehicles to governments,” according to Crain’s Detroit Business.
In 2012, it was the recipient of $1 million in state assistance in Michigan after it committed to the creation of 240 new jobs and investment of $1.5 million to “expand local operations.” The city of Dearborn Heights offered the company a “five-year tax abatement in support of the project.”
For a company whose products might receive a boost if it could advertise how it had protected police from armed protesters, it is rather amazing that the representative is so confident this has happened in the US and yet he cannot name one example. He doesn’t even bother to suggest Ferguson as an example where this happened (even though it did not).
The representative “can’t sit here and rattle them off” because such incidents don’t exist. There is no news footage because this scenario, born out of fear of protesters, is not something that has unfolded in reality.
Anyone who searches for news footage will not find anything. The only videos that come close to what the representative is sure exists are videos of protesters firing guns in Kiev, Ukraine.
Finally, just as drone manufacturers like to emphasize the fact that their products are used for search and rescue, disaster relief and wildlife research to shift attention away from how drones are used against civilian populations, companies like Armored Group and the police who use them, are particular about their vehicles being called tanks. They insist the tanks are actually “rescue vehicles,” and these companies want the public to focus on how they save people, not how they might transform local police departments into occupying forces of a community.