June 17, 2020

As Nationwide Protests For Racial Justice Continue, Gillibrand And Colleagues Call For Oversight Of Use Of Rubber Bullets And Use Of Force Against Peaceful Protestors

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined her Senate colleagues to call for an immediate review of the safety of rubber bullets being used during civil rights protests, as well as the use of force against peaceful protesters. The push follows reporting that indicates there have been serious injuries resulting from law enforcement’s use of rubber bullets and use of force to control and disperse protests against police brutality and for civil rights. Gillibrand also joined a call to investigate Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) roles in directing the use of force – including the use of tear gas or a similar gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and batons – to suppress peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square earlier this month.  

“In recent weeks, we have seen countless instances of law enforcement using rubber bullets, tear gas, and military grade equipment against peaceful citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. We know that these tactics have caused harm and serious injury to peaceful protestors and they must be reviewed immediately,” said Senator Gillibrand“Our country is finally beginning to recognize that we must implement significant and lasting changes to our nation’s policing practices and policies in order to improve trust, transparency, and public safety. The reports that the attorney general misused force for a political photo-op are alarming. There must be an immediate investigation of the use of rubber bullets and other less-lethal weapons by law enforcement to ensure that protesters can remain safe as they speak out against systemic racism and police brutality.”

Although their use is intended to cause minimal harm, weapons like rubber bullets and tear gas may cause significant injury, including deep bruises, broken bones and respiratory damage, which could increase risk of COVID-19. In the letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Gillibrand and her colleagues are demanding more information to identify deficiencies in training and use by law enforcement of less-lethal weapons in real-life situations. 

Additionally, Gillibrand joined Senate Democrats to urge Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz to open an investigation into the conduct of Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against peaceful protesters near Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. Gillibrand and her colleagues are also demanding answers about the deployment of federal agents to suppress protests and intimidate peaceful protesters and the expansion of the DEA’s authority to conduct covert surveillance of protesters.

Full text of the letter to the Government Accountability Office can be found here. 

Full text of the letter to the Department of Justice can be found here