In this May 29, 2020 photo, a police officer discharges a can of pepper spray at protestors in Des Moines, Iowa. A Maine company is facing criticism from civil rights activists for a car-mounted pepper spray device that could be used from inside their vehicles. Credit: Bryon Houlgram / The Des Moines Register via AP

A Maine company that was given an “Innovator of the Year” award is facing criticism from civil rights advocates about the potential misuse of its vehicle-mounted pepper spray device.

The device from F3 Defense in South Portland can carry 18.5 ounces of pepper spray — more than 30 times more than what is carried in a typical handheld pepper spray device — and was inspired by Black Lives Matter protesters, according to the Portland Press Herald. The company’s CEO, Michael Mercer, said during a presentation to the Manufacturers Association of Maine, which gave his company the award, that the device can be used to help drivers respond in a nonlethal way against crowds, according to the Portland paper.

Mercer said that while he understands concerns about misuse of the product, it could offer substantial protection for vulnerable drivers, such as women truck drivers or people facing carjackings, the Portland newspaper reported.

However, the Maine ACLU is worried about the way that it could be used at protests.

“Civil rights demonstrators already have a problem with violence from police and counter-protesters; they don’t need the additional worry of motorists indiscriminately spraying them with pepper spray while they are fighting for their rights,” chief council of the Maine ACLU Zach Heiden told the Portland Press Herald. Other anti-riot responses, such as rubber bullets and firing of pepper spray canisters into crowds of protestors, have led to injuries and deaths in the past.

Heiden noted to the newspaper that while the device could be used in times of legitimate danger, it could be deployed against someone that the driver didn’t like based on personal political views.

Mercer responded to those concerns by saying that developing the device was not meant to be a political issue, but rather it is “just about keeping people safe in their vehicles,” according to the Portland newspaper.

Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.