Use teargas, batons, pepper spray, fists, feet and vehicles against protesters sparks lawsuits and international condemnation
The nationwide anti-police brutality protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the US have been marked by widespread incidents of police violence, including punching, kicking, gassing, pepper-spraying and driving vehicles at often peaceful protesters in states across the country.
The actions have left thousands of protesters in jail and injured many others, leaving some with life-threatening injuries.
From Minnesota to New York, Texas, California, Washington DC and many places beyond, from small towns to big cities, police officers have demonstrated just how problematic law enforcement is in the US, drawing condemnation from international groups as well as domestic civil rights organizations.
The International Crisis Group, which monitors unrest around the world, said the police had used “excessive force”. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, said: “All police officers who resort to excessive use of force should be charged and convicted for the crimes committed.”
Numerous incidents of police violence have been exposed in disturbing videos and press accounts in recent days, with little sign that police are adjusting their tactics.
New York City alone has seen numerous incidents. On Saturday 30 May, officers in a police SUV drove at a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn, knocking several to the ground. A day earlier, a police officer was caught on camera violently shoving a woman to the ground during a demonstration. The woman, Dounya Zayer, was taken to hospital and said she suffered a seizure and concussion.
At another New York protest, an officer yanked a facemark from an African American man who was standing with his hands in the air, then pepper-sprayed him in the face.
In Buffalo, in western New York state, two officers shoved a 75-year-old man to the ground. A video showed the man hitting his head on the ground, causing his blood to spill on the sidewalk. He is now gravely ill in hospital.
On Thursday, a video posted to Twitter showed a group of police beating peaceful protesters in Philadelphia. One officer is seen using a baton to hit a man on the head, before he and another officer pin him to the ground.
Protesters in Minneapolis, where four police officers have been charged with murder over the death of George Floyd, have also been subjected to violence.
In one incident police shot paint canisters at a woman who was standing on the porch of her own home. Footage showed an officer shouting, “Light ’em up” before police opened fire. Minneapolis police have also used teargas, flash-bangs and rubber bullets on a peaceful protests in the city.
In the south-east of the US, a black woman who was kneeling with her hands in the air was shoved to the ground by police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
On the west coast, a police car drove into a protester in Los Angeles, briefly trapping them underneath the engine, and police used teargas to dispel a demonstration in Santa Monica.
In Los Angeles, as in other cities in the US, police have also repeatedly fired rubber bullets at protesters. Among those struck was CJ Montano, a military veteran, who said he had his hands up when he was shot in the head, hip, legs, stomach and ribs. In Austin, Texas, police are conducting an internal investigation after a pregnant woman was reportedly hit with a round to her stomach.
A group of scientists examined the impact of rubber and plastic bullets in 2017. They found that that 15% of those shot with the bullets, or with beanbag rounds and other “less lethal” bullets, had suffered permanent injury.
Even medical workers have not been immune.
According to the Daily Beast, 32-year-old Rayne Valentine was wearing his hospital ID when he was beaten by police officers in New York. Valentine, whose wound was closed with staples, said he had been filming protesters. Elsewhere a doctor in Miami, Florida, said he was teargassed at a protest.
Officers reportedly used teargas in Dallas and San Antonio, both in Texas, in Philadelphia and – in the most widely shared incident – to disperse protesters outside the White House in Washington DC so that Donald Trump could have his photo taken with a Bible outside a church.
Among those abused in Washington DC were a pair of Australian journalists, who were reporting on a protest. Video showed TV cameraman Tim Myers being hit with a riot shield and punched, while correspondent Amelia Brace was hit with a baton.
Frequently journalists have been met with the same aggressive policing as demonstrators, and according to the Nieman Journalism Lab, police attacked journalists “at least 140 times” in the last four days of May.
In some states, police officers have been disciplined following violence. The two officers who pushed the man in Buffalo have been suspended – which prompted all 57 members of the Buffalo police department’s emergency response team to resign in protest on Friday – as has the Fort Lauderdale officer who pushed the kneeling woman to the ground. Six police officers in Atlanta, Georgia, have been charged with aggravated assault after tasing a man and dragging a woman out of a car during an arrest in Atlanta.
In most cases, however, no action has been brought against officers or police departments. Seeking to change this, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Minneapolis police, accusing them of attacking journalists during protests, and is taking similar action in LA.
On Friday, Black Lives Matter, the ACLU and other civil rights groups brought a separate lawsuit against Trump and the attorney general, Bill Barr, over the police response to the protest in Washington DC.
“Across the country, law enforcement armed with military weaponry are responding with violence to people who are protesting police brutality,” said the ACLU’s Ben Wizner. “The first amendment right to protest is under attack, and we will not let this go unanswered.”
Americans have had enough …
… and are marching for justice in unprecedented numbers. In small towns and big cities across the country, thousands of people are giving voice to the grief and anger that generations of black Americans have suffered at the hands of the criminal justice system. Young and old, black and white, family and friends have joined together to say: enough.
The unconscionable examples of racism over the last weeks and months come as America’s communities of color have been hit hardest by the coronavirus and catastrophic job losses. This is a perfect storm hitting black Americans. Meanwhile, the political leadership suggests that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. The president who promised to end the “American carnage” is in danger of making it worse.
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