Three months after Ferguson erupted in protest over the police killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) added an Israeli weapon called skunk to its protest-crushing arsenal, arms industry news website Defense One has confirmed.
Skunk is a crowd control “malodorant” developed by the Israeli police in collaboration with Odortec, an Israeli company that specializes in scent-based weapons, and tested on Palestinians.
Released at high pressure from a water cannon, canister or grenade, skunk liquid emits an odor — described as a mix of rotting animal carcass, raw sewage and human excrement — that sticks to walls, clothing, hair and skin for days to weeks and is impossible to wash away without a special soap that is only accessible to police.
Ramallah-based activist and writer Mariam Barghouti once told The Electronic Intifada that “the water lingers on your skin to a point when you want to rip your skin off.”
First deployed by Israeli armed forces in 2008, skunk water has become a fixture in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Israeli forces routinely douse entire Palestinians neighborhoods in skunk water, deliberately spraying it into private homes, businesses, schools and funerals in what the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem calls “a collective punitive measure” against Palestinian villages that engage in protest against Israel’s colonial violence.
While Odortec insists skunk spray is non-toxic and even drinkable, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) warns that it “can cause pain and redness if it comes into contact with eyes, irritation if it comes into contact with skin and if swallowed can cause abdominal pain requiring medical treatment.”
Thus far, the putrid substance has only been deployed against Palestinians. But that won’t be the case for much longer.
According to a 14 November purchase order obtained by Defense One through Missouri’s open records law, SLMPD purchased fourteen 1.4 liter canisters of Skunk for $428 along with two types of portable skunk delivery canisters that resemble fire extinguishers. Among them were two refillable MK-46 HE canisters for $1,284, which can spray up to 60 ounces of Skunk as far as 40 feet away, and five single use MK-20 Titan canisters totaling $198.90, which can hold up to 20 ounces of skunk with a spray range of 24 feet.
A second invoice shows that SLMPD modified its order on 12 January, increasing its purchase of special soap decontaminant from one to four gallons, totaling $121.40. The revision is labeled an “EMERGENCY PURCHASE.”
While the invoice does not identify the vendor, it was likely Mistral Security, a subsidiary of Mistral Group, a US company based in Bethesda, Maryland, that deals in the production and sale of military and law enforcement equipment.
Speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Armament Systems Forum in April, Mistral general manager Stephen Rust announced, “We’ve provided some Skunk for the law enforcement agencies in Ferguson.”
Rust, who is a former project manager for the US army and Department of Defense, noted that the US military had also expressed interest in purchasing skunk. “We’ve demoed it at Fort Bragg. Why? Because they asked about it,” boasted Rust.
Mistral markets skunk spray to US police as ideal for controlling crowds and individuals at “border crossings, correctional facilities, demonstrations and sit-ins.”
It has also been promoted as means for targeting people for arrest. “I’m going to be able to drill [a specific target in a crowd] with a … round while I put him in the dirt. I can mark him with Skunk and he will be easy to locate when the crowd disperses,” said Rust at the armaments expo.
Just how many US police agencies have stockpiled the putrid substance remains unknown. Defense One reported that Mistral sold Skunk to police departments in Bossier City, Louisiana. Mistral did not respond to repeated inquiries from The Electronic Intifada.
Global pacification industry
US police departments taking repression cues from their Israeli counterparts is not new.
Decades of testing methods and weapons of domination and control on has given rise to a booming “homeland security industry” in Israel that refashions occupation-style repression for use on marginalized populations in other parts of the world. This dystopian arrangement has placed Israel at the core of what Israeli activist Jeff Halper terms the “global pacification industry.”
Like most Israeli weapons, skunk is advertised by Odortec as having been “field-tested,” meaning Palestinians were used as human test subjects during the development process.
David Ben Harosh, head of the Israeli police’s department for technological development, which partnered with Odortec to develop skunk water, stated in 2008 that skunk water was tested in “monitored exercises” in the Palestinian villages of Bilin and Nilin, which he referred to as an “experiment.”
Under the cover of “counterterrorism training,” senior commanders from nearly every major US police agency, including departments in Baltimore and St. Louis, have received training from Israel’s occupation regime on junkets that allow Israeli companies like Odortec to market their products directly to US law enforcement executives.
As the BBC reported in 2008, “The Israeli police force has high hopes of turning skunk into a commercial venture and selling it to law-enforcement agencies overseas.”
Those hopes have finally been realized, as US police departments search for more effective ways to subdue growing resistance to racist policing, further exposing the collusion taking place among purveyors of racist state violence in the US and Israel.