Doctors Decry ‘Less Lethal’ Police Munitions

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Above photo: Protesters are surrounded by tear gas near the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland as protesters take part in a rally against police brutality in Portland, Oregon late on July 24, 2020. Kathryn Elsesser/AFP via Getty Images.

Twelve doctors from the Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas, Austin wrote a letter saying the supposedly less-dangerous bean bag munitions used by police should not be used on the public.

The doctors documented face, skull and bone fractures as some of the injuries.

A group of doctors from the Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas, Austin penned a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine to warn of the dangers of police’s less-lethal munitions used to subdue Black Lives Matter protesters after treating several patients with severe injuries.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that 12 doctors from Dell Seton said Austin police used bean bag rounds in place of actual bullets to control the protests, but the bean bags still resulted in injuries like bleeding in the brain and a skull fracture. Due to the severity of these injuries, the doctors wrote that law enforcement should not be using these munitions on the public.

“Although our report reflects the experience at only one center during a short period and we cannot determine the frequency of injuries when these munitions are used, these findings highlight the fact that beanbag munitions can cause serious harm and are not appropriate for use in crowd control,” the letter reportedly read. ”In light of the ongoing nationwide protests, these observations are relevant to the broader medical community as well as to policymakers seeking to reduce rates of police-induced injuries and fatalities.”

While doctors note that there is not much prior research on the effects of less-lethal munitions and any critical injuries they cause, they said treating some cases in Austin necessitated grave medical intervention like emergency intubation and admission into intensive care units (ICUs).

In addition to brain injuries and skull fractures, some of the Austin patients reportedly suffered from facial fractures, contusions, cuts and other bone fractures. Patients ranged in age from 16 to 54, five of which had had head injuries, the letter said. Doctors reportedly also included a photograph of a patient with a bean bag stuck in their face after it was fired at them.

Kristofor Olson and Laura Haselden spearheaded the letter and confirmed that out of the 19 people treated at the University of Texas, Austin hospital, eight were admitted into hospital beds, seven underwent surgery and four had fragments of the beat bag munitions lodged in their injuries.

This letter is another testimonial surrounding police departments nationwide using force to control protests sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody. In Portland, Ore., a photojournalist suffered a serious eye injury after being shot with a pepper ball by police. 

In D.C., infantry soldiers who were deployed to quell the protests were given bayonets, or blades set to rifles, usually used for hand-to-hand combat.

These instances prompted the human rights watchdog organization Amnesty International to declare U.S. police departments committed at least 125 human rights violations while they policed protests.