Less Lethal Weapons: Violence to Silence Justice
Updated: May 8, 2022
Less-lethal weapons have been used for crowd control by the police for decades, but only recently has medical documentation of injury emerged. “If we look back at historic protests, black people always had injuries. Violence has been used to silence calls for justice. Bio medical research overtime has become more cognizant of, broadly speaking, classifying police brutality as a public health risk.” Spoken by Dr. Brooke Cunningham, a University of Minnesota medical specialist. As the focus of protests have always been centered around an external justice, the injustices that occur at the protests themselves are often overlooked. Now that we’re facing another injustice, protesters are put in the position of putting their bodies on the line. “The fact that they’re shooting people out here, and tear gassing people all the time says alot about the system and how militarized it is.” Said Victor, 19, a survivor of police brutality, in an interview with journalist, Georgia Fort. But ironic enough, as militarized as the police are acting, tear gas is actually banned from military use.
Last year following the death of George Floyd, the department of Neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota conducted a study on the injuries caused by the less lethal weapons used to crowd control the protests that began in May, last summer. “We wanted to quantify the impact these weapons had on our community’s health. What we found was alarming. 89 patients required emergency medical care with 26% of those injuries being head injuries. An adolescent required emergency surgery after a strike to the head with a rubber bullet last summer in Minneapolis.” And interestingly, DC Council member, David Grosso, had a proposal approved last summer in response to the massive protests following George Floyd’s death. The proposal became a part of a police reform bill that bans the use of less lethal weapons such as rubber bullets, flashbang and stun grenades, and tear gas to disperse protesters–unless there is a significant danger to police officers. I can’t imagine what significant danger could justify the continued use of less lethal weapons–with officers armored down in gear and bulletproof suits.
April 11th, 2021, Daunte Wright was murdered by Brooklyn Center Police Department’s officer, now former, Kimberly Potter. In the released body cam video, we saw Daunte, 20, shot to death by what was–according to Kim Potter, supposed to have been a taser. It wasn’t too long after the release of the body cam video that an uproar similar to what we saw last year in response to George Floyd’s murder, was being reinacted. Since the death of Daunte Wright, hundreds of demonstrators have gathered on Brooklyn Center’s streets demanding justice each night.
Protests have always been a space of empowerment for communities to amplify their voices. To condole one another and take a stand. To be seen and heard through the pain and unjust in light of reclaiming peace. “A lot of these protests are peaceful. A lot of protestors are just running their mouths, and that’s our right. But the fact that they want to shut us up. The fact that they want to stop us from meeting out there at all, just shows how much they’re scared of the people.” Said Victor, 19, who was shot in the face with a rubber bullet, sending him to the hospital where he was told he had a fracture in his face. “They’re the ones constantly in full body armor, but they’re scared of me when I’m just in sweats and a sweater.. When you go to the protests, if you see these protests, you can see the difference in power. I don’t have anything that could hurt them physically.” The amount of injuries and demand for medics during the George Floyd protests last year made the risk of protesting very clear. Many protesters fighting for Daunte Wright have made more of an effort to use protective gear like gas masks, umbrellas, and goggles, but have still been brutalized.
“While we were gathering up, I peaked my head over and I could see out the side of my eye that one of the umbrella holders moved his umbrella, and as soon as he moved it, I was on the ground,” recalled Victor, moments before he was rushed to medical assistance. In Victor’s interview with journalist Georgia Fort, he expressed the distress around his injury, but also how it didn’t deter his involvement. “The doctors had said that I’d probably have to see a plastic surgeon because I have a fracture in my face.” “It’s made me more angry. It’s definitely hard processing everything. Being out there fighting for a life, and then all a sudden in an instant, you can have yours taken. It’s hard to sleep. I’m awake all the time. I’m happy I have a support system to stay awake with me, but it’s hard to go home. If it wasn’t for the people around me, I’d be out there again honestly. As scared as I might be, and as frightening as this experience has been, I definitely need to be out there. This is something that needs to be heard. That’s why I’m out there all the time…” There’s no denying the lasting effects this kind of harm creates. Not only physical, but lasting mental and emotional harm that will change victims perspectives on law enforcement and public safety.
Even through the hardship of the pandemic, protests have brought thousands of individuals together in light of justice. But it has also brought in more law enforcement. The National Guard has been called in to help our state’s police departments, while the cops themselves have been initiating curfews and enforcing the same harmful tactics amongst protesters. Rubber bullets, tear gas, flashbang grenades, and other tactics such as kettling (cops closing in on protestors to isolate them), continue to be enforced. “Although less-lethal weapons are designed as an alternative to lethal weapons, we found a substantial number of patients with serious injuries, including many injuries to the head, neck, and face. United Nations guidelines state that these weapons should only be aimed directly at the extremities and that hits to the head, neck, and face are potentially unlawful. Although the results represent only a single region in a worldwide protest, these findings reveal that under current practices, projectiles are not appropriate for crowd control.” Stated in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, early January this year. Though the conversation around the short term effects of less lethal weapons has been widely circulating, there has been new conversation stirring around the long term effects of less lethal weapons, as well. It’s been suggested that irritants of less lethal weapons not only do immediate harm, but cause long term effects.
“Tear gas was initially developed as a chemical weapon for military use. These chemical weapons are now banned in warfare. However, they are commonly used by police or military personnel to break up crowds, or at protests to stop the movement of people. There are strict guidelines for tear gas use in public. These include firing tear gas from a distance, only using it outdoors, and using the lowest possible strength chemical mix.” Stated in an article published on Medical News Today, last year in July. Not only is it strange to me that something that is banned in warfare can be used on civilians, but if it is true that tear gas leads to harsh effects, particularly on those indoors, then the families of those who live in the apartment buildings outside of where the protests are held are at great risk. Startribune released an article, April 14th, subheading, “For those living in the apartments nearby, that has meant finding bright green marking rounds and gas canisters on their balconies after sleepless nights.” As families have been left to tactics such as stuffing their windows with wet towels to permit tear gas from seeping in, or having to drag in injured protestors, I worry for their safety. There are children in these apartment complexes. With the sounds of flashbang grenades, screaming, and the effects of tear gas all night, this can be traumatizing. “Crayton’s sisters, 11-year-old twins, are both on the autism spectrum and sensitive to loud sounds. They spent most of Tuesday night pacing the apartment, hands over their ears.” “Explaining to them is so hard,” Crayton said in the Star Tribune article. “I just keep having to say to them that no one is trying to hurt us.”
On twitter, there was a tweet posted by the account, Unicorn Ninja, that started gaining some traction. “Apartment buildings with families watching from their windows are likely being exposed to the large clouds of tear gas police in Brooklyn Center, MN, have been firing at protesters tonight after they shot and killed #DaunteWright today.” Though projectiles aren’t being directly aimed at the apartment buildings, it is possible it is an unlawful use of tear gas, as it is reaching the indoors of residents’ homes. Which is clear to be a health violation. According to the American Lung Association, ‘long-term health effects from tear gas are more likely if exposed for a prolonged period or to a high dose while in an enclosed area. In these instances, it can lead to respiratory failure and death.” And to continue, U of M medical specialists were invited to speak with the Minneapolis City Council regarding the research on the harm patients experienced from the protests last summer. Based on their findings, United Nations guidelines, and research, they recommend the discontinued use of launched tear gas canisters, which is awaiting approval from the Mayor. “From a public health and safety standpoint, we want people in Minnesota to be able to express their voices and concerns in a safe way. Unfortunately, we worry that protesters may become patients if the use of these weapons continues. We hope public officials will consider our findings and work with the community to ensure those protesting can do so safely.” Less lethal weapons, though they do not kill directly, do intently harm. Studies confirm that the short and long term effects of less lethal weapons are in fact unnecessary, are inappropriate for crowd control, and are potentially unlawful.
Last year following George Floyd’s death, law enforcement guarded corporations like Target all day and night, and shot projectiles at anyone attempting to get close. Yet they let small, POC businesses fall to crumbles, unprotected. “The only way they listen is when looting happens. The only way they listen is when their own city is burning down. The only way they listen is when they lose money, and that’s it. Having these barricades up and having all these things is hella money for the police department. Hella money for the state of Minnesota alone.” Said Victor, 19. “I think if our demands were met things would be a lot more peaceful. Not just for the police, not just for the city in itself, but for the people. A lot of people would feel safer. Feel like they’re actually cared about. When you have these government officials that don’t even live in the Twin Cities, they live an hour out–and are making decisions for the Twin Cities, it doesn’t make sense.” The frustration is heightened, absolutely. With another injustice on top of the Derek Chauvin trial, it seems affected communities in the Twin Cities are willing to destroy it’s infrastructure for justice, as people feel it is built on colonialism and white supremacy. For that, without justice, the Twin Cities hold no value to it’s black, brown, indigenous, and white-ally communities. Nonetheless does it permit it fair for civilians to fear or face police brutality at the ask of fairness. A situation where if white allies don’t put their bodies on the line for black and brown folx, POC are left oppressed, unprotected, penalized, and dismissed. Once again.
Here we are, America. Here we are, once again, disheartened and amongst grief. Fighting the same battle. Tired, louder, and stronger. The day we lost George Floyd last May, we fought for months to break silence and be heard, protesting day and night for justice. So why are we here again? Battling the same forms of racial disposal, inhumanity, devalue, and trauma. Silenced by social systems stamping the same ending on different stories. Endings of justification, racism, and murder. Police, no matter who value “blue lives,” are ordinary, equal people. The abuse we tolerate from law enforcement, we do not tolerate from our friends and families. And definitely not from strangers. We can no longer rule law enforcement exempt from righteous enforcement, and enable the abuse and misuse of power that come from such authority roles.
We will continue to fight and be heard, but we will no longer wait for those with harmful agendas to hear us. Law enforcement’s unlawful acts of harm and brutality amongst unarmed communities are to be questioned and brought to light. We will no longer tolerate silence around the abuse that occurs at protests, unlawfully. We will not accept another layer of unjust and unrighteous. Protests are spaces fostered in community and purpose, with the intention of peace. Why are black and brown bodies being called to fight for justice at the expense of their safety? In the face of a vicious cycle with three pillars. Mistreatment, fight for justice, mistreatment. Voice versus brutality is not a fair fight.
These deeply rooted system’s agendas are beginning to unfold. Perspectives are shifting, and clarity is beginning to surface in the midst of this, once again, tragedy. The community is truly beginning to make sense of what authority roles’ intention behind their interest in power positions really entail, and it isn’t the community. Hopefully the continued active seek of justice and intent of dismantling deeply rooted systemic issues will be the beauty that surfaces from the current heartbreak of another racial injustice. As we continue to fight together as a community, we shall remember that unity carries us through. It is time to rewrite the old narrative of racial disposal, inhumanity, devalue, and trauma, to a new one full of equity, equality, inclusivity, value, and love. As Victor, 19, said, “justice is the one thing we’re asking for, and it’s the one thing they don’t want to give. I think it’s obvious if they don’t give it, we’re going to be out there every night.”