U.S. News

Factbox: What U.S. police are shooting at protesters

(Reuters) - 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.

FILE PHOTO: A woman reacts after being pepper sprayed during continued demonstrations against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo
Police officers are seen amid tear gas as protesters continue to rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis


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.

A police officer discharges pepper spray while his fellow officers detain a protester in Raleigh, North Carolina, May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake


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.

Protesters disperse as tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang devices are deployed by police in Seattle, Washington, June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
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Police have thrown flashbang grenades into crowds, which explode with bright light and sound in order to stun and disorient demonstrators.

A Reuters photographer holds rubber bullet rounds fired by police on H Street in Washington, May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Jim Bourg


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.


Protesters have reported police using sting ball grenades, which upon explosion spray the surrounding area with rubber pellets. In addition to the rubber balls, the grenades can contain chemical agents.


Protesters in Columbus, Ohio reported having been shot with wooden bullets by police forces. Images online showed wooden dowel-shaped rods sliced into small, bullet-sized projectiles. The Columbus Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in New York; Editing by Ross Colvin and Lisa Shumaker