‘Non-lethal’ Anti-protest Weapons Can Cause Serious Harm
Rubber bullets and tear gas aren't relatively safe
Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated against police brutality in dozens of cities across the United States over the past few days, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in law enforcement custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
While many of the ongoing protests have been peaceful, videos shared on social media and in news reports have shown police using “crowd-control” weapons like pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets. The footage captures officers deploying the tools against demonstrators, journalists, bystanders, and at least one child, often unprovoked and without any prior warning. While similar weapons have been used by police around the world for decades, research shows that these “nonlethal” tools are not safe—and can be deadly.
“Calling tear gas and rubber bullets nonlethal weapons is flat-out wrong,” says Rohini J. Haar, an emergency medicine physician at the Kaiser Medical Center in Oakland and a lecturer at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health who has studied the use of crowd-control arms. “Like all weapons, their lethality depends on how they are used or misused. When you see that their use is so widespread, so prevalent, you will inevitably get fatalities and serious injuries.”
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