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Ferguson: Apartheid-Town America

The arc of the moral universe may trend toward justice, as Dr. King once remarked, but that arc twists and turns with profound irony.

Milkor is a company few Americans recognize. Milkor USA, Inc. is an American majority-owned company spun off from its South African parent company, Milkor (PTY) Ltd. Both companies manufacture and sell the Multiple Grenade Launcher (MGL). Primarily developed for military use, the MGL is basically a portable cannon with a six-slot revolver mechanism on the bottom that has a variety of uses and configurations ranging from the launch of mobile 40mm grenades to tear-gas canisters. This weapon is terrifying, and rightly so since it is the “grenade launcher of choice” for the United States Marine Corps and the Navy Seals. Unfortunately, the MGL is now present on American streets like West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, with officers in police departments across America wielding them against a public they are sworn to serve. Such trivia is important because we, as a country, must come to the realization that our police forces are militarized – emphasis on enforcement rather than service to peace – and the weapon of choice to suppress the rights of our citizens to protest has its roots in apartheid South Africa.

That’s right: All those MGLs you see on a daily basis via CNN were developed in 1981 for military use by Milkor (PTY) Ltd., capitalizing on the Afrikaner National Party’s desperate attempts to suppress the armed struggle against apartheid. The weapon’s very raison d’être was to give the “springboks,” or South African Special Forces troops, a mobile firepower advantage against their Angolan and SWAPO (South-West Africa People’s Organization) enemies. They were also very useful in suppressing riots in numerous townships across South Africa in the government’s bid to eliminate anti-apartheid protests and riots. Governing authorities find the MGLs “handy” once more as our African-American brothers and sisters push back in refusal to pass over a rising tide of police violence directed at young men of color.

The arc of the moral universe may trend toward justice, as Dr. King once remarked, but that arc twists and turns with profound irony. Wielding a weapon developed by a company in response to racialized violence, the presence of the MGL on our streets should signal to each of us that there is a causal link present within history between racism and government violence. The efforts necessary for our society to break this link will be greater than we presently realize because the roots of hostility and division run deep in the human heart. The struggle will continue to play out unless we, as a society, decide to confront the demons of our own history and wake up to the fact that Jim Crow never died. No, Mr. Crow is alive and well, and he wears the shroud of the police state. Until we confront him, the MGLs, the swords of past hatred that we refuse to beat into plowshares will remain on the battlefield of our streets, striking blows against the heart of our society, leaving only ragged tatters of suspicion, mutual loathing, and civil liberties in their wake.