MIAMI -- Almost exactly a month ago, LaToya Ratlieff was shot in the face with a foam rubber bullet by a Fort Lauderdale police officer as she choked on tear gas at a protest over the death of George Floyd. Monday, still struggling with her eyesight, she testified in front of Congress about her experience.
The 34-year-old, who is recovering from a fractured eye socket and gash that required 20 stitches, spoke alongside others injured in encounters with police officers by way of a virtual hearing conducted by the U.S. House's Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
In an interview with the Miami Herald afterward, Ratlieff said she was happy with how the hearing went and grateful for the opportunity to share her story with the nation. Looking forward, she said she's going to continue to contact local community leaders and nonprofits to see how she can be of service.
"Now I have more of an opportunity to be more vocal about my goals and ensuring as many people (as possible) get out and vote in the upcoming election," she said.
The hearing was held to address "how violent treatment of protesters and journalists across the country by federal and local law enforcement (has) violated the First Amendment," the subcommittee said in a news release. Other witnesses included Linda Tirado, a freelance photographer who was left blind in one eye after a police officer shot a rubber bullet at her in Minneapolis while she was covering protests, and Gustavo Martinez, a New Jersey journalist who was arrested while covering similar demonstrations in his state.
"As a citizen that was there (at the protest), that was peaceful, that was simply wanting to be part of change and seeing the police brutality I was met with, it just comes off as if they don't care," Ratlieff told lawmakers.
The protest took place May 31 in downtown Fort Lauderdale and was largely peaceful until around 7 p.m. Ratlieff was outside a city parking garage at the time, not far from Detective Eliezer Ramos when he fired at her.
She had been trying to calm down protesters after another officer shoved another woman as she kneeled down. Infuriated, some protesters threw plastic water bottles and rocks at the police. They were met with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Ramos, a member of the city's SWAT team, shot Ratlieff in the face. In his report, he said he was trying to hit someone who was throwing projectiles back at officers. That person was using peaceful protesters as a shield, he said. At the time she was hit, Ratlieff was stumbling around blindly and choking on tear gas.
At the hearing, Ratlieff was introduced by Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, her congressional representative. She then began her testimony by describing the activist work of her great aunt Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights leader who was beaten by police while in custody in 1964.