A vandalized sign in the Eureka Target parking-lot the May 31 protest against police brutality. | Photo by Jen Kelly

How Non-Lethal are Less Lethal Weapons

Protestors injured by non-lethal weapons in Eureka following protests against police brutality.
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Protestors injured by non-lethal weapons in Eureka following protests against police brutality.

On May 31 in Eureka a protest against police injustice ended late into the night with officers using pepper-spray projectiles to assist in the arrest of an individual suspected of vandalism. An additional protestor was arrested for attempting to prevent the first arrest.

Several protestors attempted to pull the individual out of police custody. This resulted in police firing on the rest of the crowd. Capt Brian Stevens of Eureka PD addressed the incident to the public in a video posted to Lost Coast Outpost.

“Given the escalating circumstances and the safety risks to the officers … They began firing [pepperball projectiles] into the ground in and around the crowd trying to back the crowd off,” Stevens said.

Sam Papavasilliou, a 22-year-old Humboldt State University student and former Lumberjack writer, was in attendance that night and was among 30 or so protestors fired on by police. Papavasiliou described how the crowd was cut off in the front and back by several police vehicles while passing by Dutch Bros on the north side of Eureka.

Officers first addressed the crowd to tell them they would be attempting to arrest an individual suspected of vandalism. At 10:33 p.m. this attempted arrest was met with resistance from several protestors.

“One protestor got shot in the ear with [a pepperball]. They were bleeding and they were really yelling at the officer that they didn’t do shit and they said ‘I can’t hear right now,’” Papavasiliou said.

Pepperball rounds are amongst a large host of “non-lethal” weapons used to disperse crowds deemed riotous. Pepperball rounds are designed to explode on impact leaving a cloud of OC (oleoresin capsicum), the same ingredient used in pepper spray. It is advised that they are not aimed at the eyes, face, throat, or spine as death has occured when these inappropriate areas have been fired on.

Rubber bullets are another method of crowd control that fall under a classification of “non-lethal” weapons known as KIPs (Kinetic Impact Projectiles) along with bean bag rounds, pellet rounds, and sponge rounds. In their assessment of “non-lethal” weapons and their safety The Physicians for Human Rights organization argues that “At close ranges, levels of lethality and patterns of injury of some KIPS become similar to those of live ammunition. At longer ranges, KIPs are inaccurate and indiscriminate. Some KIPs are lethal in close range and ineffective at longer distances which make safe use difficult.”

The problem really comes down to KIPs being too inaccurate at longer ranges to correctly target individuals and areas of the body they are aiming for, and that the injuries sustained at close range can penetrate the skin, break bones, fracture the skull and explode the eyeball.

Police also rely on chemical irritants (CIs) for crowd dispersal, namely tear gas and pepper spray. Pepper spray is made of a chemical derived from peppers that inflames the afflicted area on contact causing the burning sensation.

“Officers and deputies were on scene with more or less paintball guns that shoot a paintball projectile that is filled with a powdered OC,” Stevens said.

Symptoms after exposure to these agents include temporary blindness, respiratory inflammation, increase in heart rate and blood pressure. People with respiratory or heart conditions are at an increased risk of more serious injury or death.

Other “non-lethal” weapons include pepper spray, bean bag rounds, tear gas and flash bangs just to name a few. When used correctly, these weapons are a less dangerous alternative to shooting people with actual guns, but mistakes in their applications can leave victims with wide ranges of injury.

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