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As protests against police brutality continue across the country, disturbing reports of the damage caused by rubber bullets are increasing calls to ban the use of these and similar crowd-control weapons.
One story that has gone viral is that of photojournalist Linda Torado, who was covering the protests in Minneapolis when she was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet. She is now permanently blind in that eye. It’s estimated there have been at least 20 protesters who have suffered similar injuries.
There have also been numerous protesters who were shot in other parts of the face, including a homeless man in a wheelchair, a woman who was merely a spectator, and a 26-year-old man named Brandon Saenz who lost an eye, several teeth, and had facial fractures that required multiple surgeries. It’s gotten so bad that a leading medical group is calling for rubber bullets to be banned.
These are the rubber bullets of various sizes that the cops are using by the way. pic.twitter.com/LToByLdHjz
— Roy Bellamy (@roybelly) June 3, 2020
At another protest, rubber bullets sprayed the crowd resulting in at least three serious injuries, including emergency surgery for 27-year-old community organizer Derrick Sanderlin, who approached police to ask for peace and was shot in the groin. He will likely be unable to have children.
In Austin, 11 people had to be taken the hospital due to injuries from being shot by police-fired beanbag rounds, which are another form of “nonlethal” crowd-control weapons. Their injuries and the accompanying videos resulted in public backlash spurring the Austin Police Chief to ban them from future crowd-control use.
So what are rubber bullets? They can be the size of your palm and tend to have a metal core with a thin polymer coating, while others consist solely of hardened plastic. They weigh five times as much as a standard bullet. They are classified as “nonlethal” even though they have been shown to cause death. A 2017 medical report found that, over the past few decades, 71% of those shot with rubber bullets had severe injuries and 3% died as a result of being hit.
From the extent of injuries we’re seeing on social media, it’s clear rubber bullets are being shot directly at protesters, all of whom were attending a peaceful protest or actively covering one as a journalist. If used how intended, rubber bullets should never hit a person directly. They should be shot by aiming at the ground so the bullet bounces up into the lower extremities of the crowd you’re attempting to disperse. But that’s not what’s happening.
Calling them “nonlethal” weapons is inaccurate and dangerous because it spreads misinformation about just how harmful these types of common crowd-control measures can be. This is why activists are fighting to highlight how this is another form of police brutality that needs to be banned. Efforts in Austin were successful and other areas are pushing for their police departments to do the same.
There is currently a petition on Change.org with more than 1.2 million signatures to ban the use of rubber bullets by the police. You can sign it here.