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Police using rubber bullets on protesters that can kill, blind or maim for life

Liz Szabo, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

In cities across the country, police departments have attempted to quell unrest spurred by the death of George Floyd by firing rubber bullets into crowds, even though five decades of evidence shows such weapons can disable, disfigure and even kill.

In addition to rubber bullets -- which often have a metal core -- police have used tear gas, flash grenades, pepper spray gas and projectiles to control crowds of demonstrators demanding justice for 46-year-old George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, while other officers restrained his body. Some peaceful demonstrations have turned violent, with people smashing windows, setting buildings afire and looting stores.

The use by police of rubber bullets has provoked outrage, as graphic images have flashed on social media showing people who have lost an eye or suffered other injuries after being hit.

A study published in 2017 in the BMJ found that 3% of people hit by rubber bullets died of the injury. Fifteen percent of the 1,984 people studied were permanently injured by the rubber bullets, also known as "kinetic impact projectiles."

Rubber bullets should be used only to control "an extremely dangerous crowd," said Brian Higgins, the former police chief of Bergen County, N.J.

"Shooting them into open crowds is reckless and dangerous," said Dr. Douglas Lazzaro, a professor and expert in eye trauma at NYU Langone Health.

 

In the past week, a grandmother in La Mesa, Calif., was hospitalized in an intensive care unit after being hit between the eyes with a rubber bullet. Actor Kendrick Sampson said he was hit by rubber bullets seven times at a Los Angeles protest.

In Washington, D.C., the National Guard allegedly fired rubber bullets Monday to disperse peaceful protesters near a historic church where President Donald Trump was subsequently photographed.

In a statement, Attorney General William Barr defended the actions of local and federal law enforcement officers in Washington, saying they had "made significant progress in restoring order to the nation's capital."

Barr did not mention the use of tear gas or rubber bullets.

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