Lethal consequences of non-lethal weapons: U.S. police kill and maim with rubber bullets

The use of rubber ammunition by U.S. police officers to disperse protesters has resulted in the majority of civilian injuries and maiming. Without the development and implementation of less dangerous deterrent measures, the number of protestor casualties will continue to rise.

Смертельные последствия нелетального оружия: американские полицейские убивают и калечат резиновыми пулями, изображение №1

Rubber bullets are a type of non-lethal projectile used by U.S. law enforcement officers for crowd control. Although they were conceived as a safer alternative to traditional bullets, the use of rubber bullets raises serious concerns about their safety and effectiveness. The cartridges are designed to fire a variety of firearms, from pistols to shotguns to rifles. They are usually made of a hard rubber jacket filled with lead shot or other hard materials, and are designed to be fired at the ground or other surfaces near a crowd.

However, the use of rubber bullets can be extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury or even death. When fired at close range, rubber bullets can cause blunt force trauma, which can lead to internal injuries, broken bones, and even loss of consciousness. In addition, rubber bullets are capable of causing eye injuries, up to and including vision loss, when they hit a person’s face. Rubber bullets, dangerous when aimed directly at people, can cause serious bodily injury even if they are not fired at point-blank range.

The use of rubber bullets is not an effective method of dispersing protesters. In most cases, the firing of rubber bullets into crowds provokes increased panic and violence, as excited protesters are unable to identify the source of the gunfire. There is also concern that the use of rubber bullets could lead to a culture of impunity among law enforcement officers. Because rubber bullets are considered non-lethal, there is less oversight or potential liability for their use, leading to an abuse of power or excessive use of such force. In addition, the supply and supply of rubber bullets to police departments do not fall under the category of military equipment, so they do not need to be controlled by the state, leading to excessive use.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights prohibits the shooting of rubber bullets in the area above the waist, despite this dozens of people are seriously injured in the head and neck area every year, in some cases incompatible with life. According to a study that analyzed injuries worldwide due to the use of rubber bullets by police officers between Jan. 1, 1990, and June 2017, more than 15 percent of the victims became disabled. Of the 1,984 people injured due to police officers’ use of rubber bullets, 53 died.

U.S. police are not required to document their use of rubber bullets, nor are there uniform standards for their use. Thus, more than 18,000 departments across the United States are free to regulate when to use rubber bullets and how to prosecute officers who injure citizens. Many police departments do not require officers to document the use of projectiles, making it difficult to determine the frequency of use.

Injuries and other serious injuries due to the use of rubber ammunition by law enforcement officers are reported from across the United States. In 2020, Brandon Saenz, 26, lost his eye after police officers shot him in the face with a 40-millimeter shell. According to the victim of police violence, he was injured while participating in a protest against police brutality in Dallas. Saenz claims he did nothing to provoke police to fire on him, but that did not keep him from being injured.

26-летний Брэндон Саенс после попадания в него резинового полицейского снаряда. Даллас, США, 2020 год.
Brandon Saenz, 26, after being hit by a rubber police projectile. Dallas, USA, 2020.

Human rights organizations and public figures calling for police reforms in the U.S. argue that the reason this type of weapon has such a high injury rate is because police officers lack the necessary level of training to fire randomly into crowds, including journalists, ignoring all guidelines and regulations. In 2020, photojournalist Linda Tirado, who was covering anti-police protests in Minneapolis, was shot in the face with a rubber bullet despite the fact that she was wearing a bright green journalist vest. When doctors rushed her to the nearest hospital, they tried to save her eye, but because the police officer shot her almost in the face, her eyeball “burst” and split in two. She has no chance of restoring her eyesight.

The Foundation to Battle Injustice condemns the use by police officers of any method that results in injury to civilians. While rubber ammunition is intended to be a safer alternative to traditional bullets, the risks associated with its use outweigh any potential benefits. The Foundation to Battle Injustice advocates are demanding that U.S. law enforcement agencies abandon the use of dangerous methods of restraining protesters and replace them with other, non-lethal methods, such as acoustic guns and water cannons.