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Investigation: Are Cops Breaking Their Own Rules On 'Rubber Bullets'?

A police officer aims a projectile weapon at protesters who gathered in a call for justice for George Floyd following his death, outside the 3rd Police Precinct on May 27, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty Images)
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With terms like “foam,” “sponge” and “bean bag,” the projectiles used by police in response to recent protests may sound harmless. They’re not.

"On day one of training, they tell you, 'Don't shoot anywhere near the head or neck,'" says Charlie Mesloh, a certified instructor on the use of police projectiles and a professor at Northern Michigan University. "That's considered deadly force."

Yet in a joint investigation into law enforcement actions at protests across the country after George Floyd’s death in police custody, KHN and USA TODAY found that some officers appear to have violated their department’s own rules when they fired “less lethal” projectiles at protesters who were for the most part peacefully assembled.

Critics have assailed those tactics as civil rights and First Amendment violations, and three federal judges have ordered temporary restrictions on their use.

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At least 60 protesters sustained serious head injuries, including a broken jaw, traumatic brain injuries and blindness, based on news reports, interviews with victims and witnesses and a list compiled by Scott Reynhout, a Los Angeles researcher.

Photos and videos posted on social media show protesters with large bruises or deep gashes on the throat, hands, arms, legs, chest, rib cage and stomach, all caused by what law enforcement calls “kinetic impact projectiles” and bystanders call “rubber bullets.”


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