Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP Photo
In the week since George Floyd died while pinned down by Minneapolis police officers, protests across the United States have intensified.
So, too, has the police response to these demonstrations that, in some places, have turned violent and included looting, vandalism, and arson.
Social media is filled with images of wounded protesters and journalists who have been struck by rubber bullets and tear gas canisters in the eyes and face. Some have even lost their sight.
Experts policing, however, tell Insider that rubber bullets are considered "less lethal" weapons — and many police departments have considered them a "legitimate tool" for decades.
Gory images have flooded social media in the week since the police killing of George Floyd: people's eyes swollen shut, blood dripping from deep gashes on their bodies, and bruised and mottled skin.
The 46-year-old Floyd died on May 25 after being pinned under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer for eight minutes and 46 seconds. The way he was treated by four policemen in the roughly 90 minutes between his arrest and death has enraged protesters across the United States. Thousands have protested peacefully, but thousands more have channeled their anger at men and women in blue.
And the police haven't held back. They've wielded batons, hit people with tear gas and pepper spray, hurled flash bangs, shoved and punched protesters, driven squad cars into demonstrators, and fired rubber bullets to contain crowds. Journalists have been deployed to various demonstrations around the country, and many have been wounded by the police.
CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images
A freelance photographer, Linda Tirado was shot in the left eye while covering protests in Minneapolis.
"I was aiming my next shot, put my camera down for a second, and then my face exploded," she told The New York Times. "I immediately felt blood and was screaming, 'I'm press! I'm press!'"
Tirado, who was helped by protesters, believes she was hit by a rubber bullet that came from police officers. John Elder, a police spokesman, told the Times that it's been decades since the department used rubber bullets — even though numerous videos and photos show the cops using them.
Tirado has since shared numerous updates on Twitter, where she described losing sight in her left eye and said doctors told her it's not likely to recover.
—Linda Tirado (@KillerMartinis) May 30, 2020
—Linda Tirado (@KillerMartinis) May 30, 2020
—Linda Tirado (@KillerMartinis) June 1, 2020
CNN reporter Oscar Jimenez, who was detained while doing a live shot in Minneapolis — after politely offering to move to where state troopers preferred to station him and his crew — told the Times that his cameraman and producer were pelted by rubber bullets on Saturday.
A KPCC reporter, Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, wrote on Twitter that he was covering anti-police violence protests in Long Beach, California. An officer saw him interviewing a demonstrator and then "aimed and shot me in the throat," he wrote, adding later that the bloody wound was painful.
—Adolfo Guzman-Lopez (@AGuzmanLopez) June 1, 2020
Balin Brake, a protester, was also photographed with blood pouring from his right eye. He later said on Twitter that he was blinded after a policeman in Fort Wayne, Indiana, "unnecessarily and improperly fired a tear gas canister at my head hitting my eye."
He added that he may end up needing additional surgeries weeks to mend broken facial bones.
—lens (@notbalin) June 1, 2020
On Monday, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West asked her 65 million-plus Twitter followers to help find a high schooler in Minneapolis who was apparently struck by a rubber bullet in the middle of her forehead, gouging out a chunk of skin and sending rivulets of blood down her face. West said she wanted to help pay for the victim's medical bills.
—Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 1, 2020
The activist Shaun King in a series of Instagram posts also highlighted how 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala was struck in the head with a rubber bullet fired by an Austin Police Department sniper.
A video King posted shows Ayala standing one minute and crumpled on the ground the next.
"It caused a traumatic brain injury and he had to have emergency surgery," King wrote. "He was unarmed. Non-violent. He's a kid. He did NOTHING."
Not every country allows cops to use rubber bullets
A Change.org petition to ban "inhumane rubber bullets" has amassed over 383,000 signatures and counting, as of Tuesday.
Such bullets are dangerous, the petition says, adding, "They may cause bone fractures, injuries to internal organs, or even death. It's been proven that rubber and plastic bullets are too dangerous for crowd control and have even been banned" in other parts of the world.
Chile is one country that has tamped down on the use of rubber bullets.
Earlier this year, the Latin American nation was wracked by months-long anti-government protests, which were sparked by increased metro fees, but then spread to include issues like income inequality and exorbitant costs of living. Law enforcement officials used pellets to quell the disquiet and pumped tear gas canisters at people's faces, NPR reported.
Chile's Institute of Human Rights said more than 400 people have suffered eye injuries and some have been rendered completely blind, said NPR.
Photographs of bandaged eyes became common in late 2019, according to The New York Times, and served to unite and rouse protesters.
Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
However, a study by the Universidad de Chile found that the pellets were constructed of only 20% rubber. The rest was silica, lead, and barium sulfate, Reuters reported, prompting Chile's police chief to suspend the use of the projectiles.
It would be "prudent" to use rubber bullets and firearms "as an extreme measure and exclusively for self-defense, when there is imminent danger of death," Director General Mario Rozas said, per Reuters.
A 'less lethal' weapon
There is no national standard for whether it's OK for police officers to use rubber bullets. Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at John Jay College, told Insider that the bullets are considered "less lethal" weapons at many police departments and used as an alternative to "more extreme measures," including Tasers, ammunition, and chemical sprays, she said.
Since some police departments consider rubber bullets a "legitimate tool," their use doesn't count as "excessive force," Haberfeld said — even though they can blind people. But Haberfeld said that officers could still get in trouble if they used those measures on someone who was complied with the arresting officer's orders and ceased to resist arrest.
Rubber bullets are generally used for crowd control, according to Eugene A. Paoline III, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida.
They help policemen "disperse people without having to be in close proximity," he said. However, "they are not to be used in lethal encounters" and should be aimed below people's heads.
mpi04/MediaPunch/IPX via AP Photo
"Rubber bullets would not be used on a knife — or gun — wielding suspect to gain compliance," Paoline said. "At the same time, if a rubber bullet is administered to a person's head, it could cause death, which would then change the definition of the encounter from less lethal to lethal."
That said, every police department has a policy that determines whether the use of rubber bullets is considered excessive force and lays out when and how the weapon's use is permissible, Paoline said.
Jennifer Cobbina, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, told Insider that protest policing in the 1960s and 1970s was "based on the philosophy of escalated force in which increasing violence on the part of protesters was met with increasing force from police. This approach was primarily aggressive and confrontational in nature."
"We see protest police resorting to this strategy" in the ongoing George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, she said, even though such tactics "exacerbate tension between police and protesters."
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
Cobbina suggested police adopt the negotiated management approach that was favored from the mid-1970s until the 1990s. This response protects the right to free speech, tolerates some disruption, de-escalates tension, and avoids high levels of police force unless it's absolutely necessary.
This would allow demonstrators and police departments to "decrease disruptiveness from protesters and limit the need for police violence," she said.
Asked if the police can help bring the burgeoning social unrest under control by responding differently or adopting certain actions, Haberfeld said no.
Politicians and community organizers need to respond to the civil disobedience, she said, because it is "larger than the police."
After all, Haberfeld added, "Police are the arm of the local government and not a standalone body."
Read the original article on Insider