As protests demanding justice for the Minneapolis death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer continue to escalate around the US, many demonstrators are finding themselves subjected to physical force, tear gas and the shooting of rubber bullets by police.
The latter, originally designed to be aimed at the ground to help disperse a crowd, can lead to serious injuries like blindness, a fractured skull or concussion – with multiple protesters taking to social media to share graphic images of the damage the bullets have inflicted on their bodies.
“I was protesting tonight. I was recording everything when I got hit with a rubber bullet. This is the result,” one woman wrote in a post on Twitter, above two images of her bloodied and bruised face.
The bullets, spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians Dr Jose Torradas told Business Insider, are meant to be fired at people’s lower extremities (like their thigh), and at a far enough distance that they shouldn’t break the skin.
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If used like this, he said, they’re unlikely to leave more than a bruise and will feel like you’re being hit with a paintball. But, there’s a “fine line” between a shot that leaves a minor welt and one that can be dangerous, even deadly, Dr Torradas said.
“If you’re just firing off at close range, not really aiming for the lower limbs, you’re asking for trouble,” he said.
Last week, photojournalist Linda Tirado said it felt like her eyeball “exploded” when she was hit with a bullet in Minneapolis, leaving her permanently blind in her left eye.
“What we think happened is I took a rubber bullet to the face,” Tirado wrote on Twitter.
“It exploded my eyeball, which has now been patched back together but who knows if it’ll need more surgery. My vision is gone no matter what it winds up looking like scar-wise.”
Images also emerged of NBC News video and photojournalist Ed Ou, his face bleeding, after police started firing tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators in Minneapolis on the weekend.
“Given their inherent inaccuracy, potential for misuse and associated health consequences of severe injury, disability and death, KIPS (kinetic impact projectiles, which includes rubber bullets) do not appear to be appropriate weapons for use in crowd control settings,” the authors of a 2017 review of the weapons wrote.
“There is an urgent need to establish international guidelines on the use of crowd control weapons to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths.”
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But the impacts of being shot at by the rubber bullets isn’t just physical, one protester, who was hit twice by the bullets during protests in Minneapolis, told The Cut.
“It felt like a zombie apocalypse. Cops shouldn’t use any type of gun to disperse a crowd because it feels like the real thing. It feels like somebody’s shooting you and you’re running for your life,” they said, describing the pain as “100 times worse” than being hit in the leg with a baseball.
“When so many black lives are taken by guns, rubber bullets feel like a repetition of the same thing. We’ve been having our lives taken by these weapons for so long. It’s traumatising to see a gun aimed at you. If you’re hit in the wrong place, it could be the end.”