The wave of protests sweeping through America and the world following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many, many others, has seen law enforcement deploying violent tactics to quell protesters. These tactics include the use of rubber bullets, which although considered “nonlethal” weapons used for crowd control, are actually extremely dangerous.
Below we’ve rounded up all the crucial information you need to know about rubber bullets, from what they’re actually made from, to what they can do, and how you can protect yourself. The following information is sourced from NBC News, Inverse, Popular Science, and The Cut.
What are they made from?
Well, firstly, they’re not actually rubber — the name is extremely misleading. These “Rubber” bullets often feature a metal core or components with thin polymer coating; some are made entirely from plastic or hardened foam. They are not small, either, some rubber bullets can reportedly be the size of your palm.
What do they do? Are they dangerous?
Rubber bullets, when fired at a close range, can penetrate the skin. They can disable, disfigure, and kill. They can break bones, fracture skulls, explode eyeballs, cause traumatic head injuries, bowel and abdominal injuries, bruise hearts and lungs … the list goes on.
In the last week alone, multiple blood-soaked images have surfaced on social media that show how people have been injured as a consequence of rubber bullets during the Black Lives Matter protests. Some have lost eyes, one man was shot in the throat, another has suffered a broken jaw, one grandmother in California was hospitalized after being hit between the eyes.
Actor Kendrick Sampson says he was shot seven times by rubber bullets during a protest in LA. Freelance photographer Linda Tirado says she has been blinded by a rubber bullet deployed during a protest in Minneapolis.
People have described being shot by a rubber bullet feeling akin to being hit by a brick coming at you at 15mph.
A 2017 study in the BMJ (peer-reviewed medical journal) found that three percent of the people hit by rubber bullets died from the injury. 15 percent of 1,984 people studied were permanently injured.
Crowd control weapons expert Rohini Haar told Prevention, “Rubber bullets basically fire out of the weapon pretty much as fast as a bullet.” Fired from a distance, they are wildly unpredictable.
How is the use of rubber bullets regulated?
Police don’t have to document when they use rubber bullets. They are considered a “crowd control” weapon. As law enforcement aren’t required to document, there is no national data to show how often they are used, nor is there any concrete standards in regards to their use.
Despite the fact they can kill, rubber bullets are considered a “nonlethal” weapon.
How should they be used?
Rubber bullets were developed by the British military in the ’70s to quell nationalist riots in Nothern Ireland. They were intended to be shot at people’s lower bodies to disperse violent crowds, but never aimed the head or torso. If they are shot at the ground first (skip fired) there is no predicting where they will end up.
Brian Higgins, the former police chief of Bergen County, New Jersey, said they should only be used to control “an extremely dangerous crowd.” Eye trauma expert Dr. Douglas Lazzaro echoed, “Shooting them into open crowds is reckless and dangerous.”
How can you protect yourself against rubber bullets?
Ballistic-rated safety glasses and goggles with an airtight seal can help protect your eyes against rubber bullets (also helpful to protect against tear gas, water cannons, smoke, and debris). Wear a helmet. Keep your skin covered; the heavier the fabric the better. Men could consider wearing a cup for further protection. Some people have made makeshift shields by attaching sheets of hard plastic to themselves.
Join us in taking a stance against institutionalized racism.