What happened to some protesters this past summer as they demanded accountability for police officers who killed or seriously injured Black people? 

At least 115 sustained head injuries due to “crowd-control weapons” fired by police, according to a new report released September 14 by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). These weapons include rubber and plastic bullets, and bean bag, sponge and pellet rounds.

The report, titled “Shot in the Head,” relied on the forthcoming Berkeley Protocol on Open Source Investigations guidelines to create the first database on head injuries that resulted from police action against protesters. It used ”web searches of publicly available media, including social media and news media, lawsuits, medical reports, and other audiovisual media,” according to the report’s methodology. Conducting keyword-specific searches—such as ”shot in the head or face,” “protest injury” and “rubber bullet”—researchers looked for reported incidents, preferably with photos, that occurred from May 26, following George Floyd’s May 25 death, to July 27. 

The report chronicled injuries in various U.S. cities, but focused on Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; and Portland, where PHR found that “often life-threatening” trauma had occurred most and where officers are under investigation for their behaviors against protesters. The report story map also includes up-close and intimate testimonies from victims and sometimes court documents. 

Below are several examples in the report from Los Angeles alone:

  • “While participating in the march on Beverly Center, Abigail Rodas is shot in the jaw with a rubber bullet, according to documentation from the National Lawyers Guild.”  
  • “Shortly after capturing the images of armed personnel on the roof of the synagogue, C.J. Montano has his hands up when he is shot in the head with a rubber bullet near the corner of Beverly Boulevard and The Grove Drive. Among other injuries, Montano suffers a traumatic brain injury and bleeding in the brain. He said he has to take anti-seizure medication and temporarily use a cane to walk.”
  • “Deon Jones is photographed at the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and North Genesee Avenue after being shot in the face with a police projectile. He is subsequently hospitalized with a skull fracture. A doctor later tells him that had the projectile struck elsewhere on his face, he risked blindness or death.”

As a result, PHR is recommending what many Black Lives Matter activists have been pushing for: a nonpiecemeal solution to overpolicing and weapons. In fact, the report calls any such approach “inadequate,” stating that the injuries it uncovered “demand national action on regulation, education, and training on the use of force and accountability around all impact projectiles.”

In conclusion, PHR wrote:

This open-source review suggests that so-called “less-lethal” crowd-control weapons escalate tensions, often violate constitutional rights, and can result in significant injuries, disability, and even death. Injuries such as those shown here, coupled with PHR’s in-depth documentation and research on the use and impact of these weapons, make clear that kinetic impact projectiles [those tossed or shot into crowds or people] should not play any role in crowd control.

To view the complete report, photos, videos, social media posts and more, click here or see below: