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Explainer: What US Police Are Shooting at Protesters 


Tear gas billows as demonstrators gather in Lafayette Park to protest the death of George Floyd, May 31, 2020, near the White House in Washington.

Police across the United States are using a variety of weapons on protesters as demonstrations against the police killing of George Floyd intensify. Often described as "non-lethal," these weapons include tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. They have sometimes seriously injured protesters.

Tear gas: Tear gas has been widely and frequently used by police to disperse protesters. CS or CN gas are chemical compound powders that spray from canisters. They produce a burning sensation in the eyes and mouth that incapacitates.

Pepper spray and pepper balls: Police have shot protesters with pepper spray both from handheld devices and projectiles. While pepper spray is chemically distinct from tear gas, it produces similar effects: burning and watering of the eyes and skin. Police have also fired pepper balls, small projectiles containing chemical irritants. Such projectiles can contain PAVA spray, an irritant similar to pepper spray, as well as CS gas. The balls can be shot from launchers or modified paintball guns.

Flashbangs: Police have thrown flashbang grenades into crowds, which explode with bright light and sound in order to stun and disorient demonstrators.

Rubber and plastic bullets: Protesters have also been hit by a variety of rubber, plastic, and "sponger" bullets. Reuters journalists in Minneapolis were shot by police with 40mm hard plastic projectiles during a protest on Saturday. In Los Angeles, police have used rubber projectiles, and Mayor Eric Garcetti has said the police department will minimize their use going forward. A 2017 survey published by the British Medical Journal found that injuries from such "kinetic impact projectiles" caused death in 2.7% of cases.

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