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  • Eye Injuries During Protests Are an Emerging Public Health Problem

    Jun. 19, 2020

    Life-altering eye injuries are an increasingly common result of urban protests and demonstrations. We have seen it around the world, from Kashmir to Chile to Hong Kong — and we now see it in the United States. The American Academy of Ophthalmology this week called on members of Congress to restrict the use of rubber bullets after more than 20 Americans across the country suffered serious eye injuries while peacefully protesting.

    This Academy urged leaders of the House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary to support our call against rubber bullets as they consider police reform measures. Here's a map of states, counties and cities that have already taken action on rubber bullets.

    Tracking eye injuries from rubber bullets

    To determine how many people have sustained eye injuries or lost sight due to their participation in protests, the Academy and University of California San Francisco have launched a registry through the school’s ophthalmology department.

    Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

    • Number of people who lost an eye: At least 7, with additional patients undergoing further surgery to save their eye
    • Age range for those who lost an eye: 21 to 37 years
    • Age range for eye injury: 16 to 59 years
    • Projectile type: Rubber bullet or similar object (such as a bean bag round or pepper ball) and a tear gas canister. One patient suffered damage to their cornea from a taser fired at close range.
    • States reporting serious eye injuries: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas

    The Academy will continue to urge Congress and the administration to gather information about the use of rubber bullets and other so-called "kinetic-impact projectiles." We also want to make sure law enforcement training programs use evidence-based protocols that account for the risks posed by rubber bullets and other projectiles.

    Widespread support for limiting rubber bullets

    Several organizations have endorsed the Academy’s statement on rubber bullets, including:

    • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
    • American Academy of Family Physicians
    • American Geriatrics Society
    • American Society of Nephrology
    • Council of Medical Specialty Societies
    • Sociedad Chilena de Oftalmología (Chilean Society of Ophthalmology)
    • Society of Interventional Radiology

    Americans have the right to speak and congregate publicly, and should be able to exercise this right without the fear of blindness. You shouldn’t have to choose between your vision and your voice. Wear protective eyewear if you attend a protest and know what to do if you get injured.