Police Using Rubber Bullets On Protesters That Can Kill, Blind Or Maim For Life
Speaker 1: 00:00 Elisa woman is in intensive care this week, after being struck in the face by a rubber bullet while she was peacefully protesting the death of George Floyd in front of the Lemmy. So police department over the weekend, her family is now calling for an investigation. They want the person who fired the bullet to be charged. Law enforcement used rubber bullets along with pepper spray to respond to protesters in San Diego. And Lamesa prompting outrage, citizens to question, what are the rules for when to use these nonlethal weapons joining us as Liz Zebo who's senior correspondent for Kaiser health news. Liz, thanks for joining us. Happy to be here. So now rubber bullets are called non-lethal, but you cite research though, of nearly 2000 people struck by rubber bullets that shows the not always non-vital. What did they find? Speaker 2: 00:47 That's right. They were originally called a non-lethal use of force. People would provide that sometimes people call it less lethal or less than lethal, but there was a study looking at years and years of research that found three and every 100 people struck by a rubber bullet was actually killed and 15% are permanently injured. And sometimes those injuries are quite serious. Speaker 1: 01:11 Talk a bit about the sorts of injuries they can cause. Speaker 2: 01:14 Well, in some cases, this is, these can be quite serious. Uh, the bullets are flying out at, at, at really high force about 90 miles an hour, according to one site that I looked at, um, and they can fracture your skull. They can break bones. Um, they can cause traumatic brain injury. Um, they can blow out the globe of the eye, the actual eyeball. It can be exploded. Um, in the worst case scenario, it also causes tissue damage around the eye. Um, in that case, surgeons tell me they have to not only remove the eye, but a lot of the soft tissue and skin around it, which can be tremendously disfiguring you're, you're left with sort of a big gouge in your face. Um, these can also, um, if they were to, uh, hit a major blood vessel at your heart, that can be incredibly dangerous. There's just all sorts of major organs that can be damaged by these rubber bullets. And as I, as I said, they can be lethal in 3% of cases. Speaker 1: 02:10 So what, what the law enforcement officials say about why they use rubber bullets? Speaker 2: 02:16 Well, apparently there's an entire hierarchy of force. Um, I talked to law enforcement experts and they said that generally police will try to, to start with something that is, um, much less dangerous. Um, something like pepper spray while intensely irritating at the time. Um, doesn't tend to cause any permanent damage. Uh, tear gas is, is much less dangerous. And experts told me that you only really escalate to rubber bullets. Um, if a crowd is extremely dangerous, um, so you've, you've tried everything else and, and this is pretty much, uh, one of your last resorts. Um, but every law enforcement official I talked to said they should never ever be used on peaceful protesters. This, this is when there is a real danger of violence. Speaker 1: 03:07 Did you speak with law enforcement? Were they willing to talk to you for your story? Speaker 2: 03:10 You know, I, I didn't get any callbacks from actual police officers. I got an email, uh, from the Minneapolis police. Um, I had contacted them because a freelance photographer has been blinded by what she referred to on Twitter as a rubber bullet. Um, she actually lost an eye and when I emailed them to ask about this, they said, we do not use rubber bullets. We use 40 millimeter, uh, marking foam, um, whatever it was though, this was an extremely dangerous projectile because it did blow out her eye. Speaker 1: 03:46 We have a reporter from our NPR affiliate, KPCC Adolfo Guzman Lopez, who our listeners may have heard on our air. He's among several journalists who say they were injured by rubber bullets over the weekend. Adolfo was actually a hit in the throat and he's posted photographs of that. And it looks like a pretty, could have been a very serious injury. Um, does law enforcement training see where you're supposed to fire a rubber bullet and from how far away? Speaker 2: 04:15 Yes. Um, people say that you should absolutely only aim for the legs if you fire a rubber bullet, um, which in some ways is a misnomer because many of them have a metal core. So it's a metal bullet wrapped in rubber in some cases, um, that you should aim for the legs. If you fire them at close range, uh, they have tremendous force and they can do a lot more damage. But if you fire them from far away, you lose accuracy. You could hit a target that you could hit something. That's not your target. You could hit a bystander, but everyone agrees. You should aim for the legs because what you want to do is hit someone so that they fell down so that they can't walk. Um, these are supposed to be used on a dangerous person or a dangerous crowd that's advancing on you. You want them to stop coming towards you. So you hit them in the legs and there are there, um, there's extensive training. Um, people say that should be used. Not every police officer should be using rubber bullets. They tell me you need special training. You need special guns. Speaker 1: 05:13 W w what exactly do you know about the different kinds of rubber bullets? I mean, what are they, what are they, what are they made of? Speaker 2: 05:21 Well, in some cases, it's a regular metal. Well, it's the metal bullet. That's surrounded in a rubber coating and other cases, they are rubber. Um, the Minneapolis police denied using rubber bullets. They say that they use these foam pellets. Um, but dr. Say a lot of these names are really euphemisms. Um, a rubber bullet sounds like it's a pencil eraser or a, a super ball. You know, the, these are very, very hard projectiles. And these foam products, these foam projectiles, when you call them foam, it, it sort of sounds like a pool noodle or, uh, uh, shaving cream. These are very, very hard and whatever it was that was sprayed at this reporter in Minneapolis, she, she lost an eye. So, um, they, they can be quite hard. Sometimes people will shoot out tiny beanbag pellets from a specialized gun. Um, sometimes they'll shoot out pepper, spray balls, um, pepper spray balls can also be dangerous. Uh, Boston police use them on an unruly crowd in 2004 after the world series, when, when crowds were getting a bit Rawkus in Boston, um, the pepper ball hit a 21 year old college student in the eye and killed her. Speaker 1: 06:36 Now, is there any reporting on how often this form of non-lethal supposedly, um, weapons are used? Speaker 2: 06:45 Unfortunately, no. Uh, there is no requirement that police document when and where, uh, they use, um, any of these projectiles. So we have no national numbers. We have absolutely no national numbers. They have certainly been used extensively in recent days. Uh, but there are no national numbers and there are no national standards. Every, every, uh, police jurisdiction has its own standards about when the leave used. Um, there there's really no national, um, set of guidelines for police to follow. Speaker 1: 07:17 It was Liz Xevo of Kaiser health news. Congress is planning to hold hearings on the use of excessive force and the militarization of the nation's police force in coming weeks. Speaker 3: 07:31 [inaudible].