US security forces have weaponised riot gear in a violent effort to quell protests against police brutality, in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of a white policeman.

As Black Lives Matter demonstrations continue across the US, security forces are getting creative with their use and choice of weapons.

Protests marked by slogans of "I can't breathe" — a rallying cry echoing the dying words of George Floyd, and Eric Garner, five years before him, — began peacefully the day after the former was killed in Minneapolis police custody. 

The protests escalated after the Minneapolis police precinct was set on fire on May 26. 

Police have since used rubber bullets and fired pepper and tear gas into crowds of often peaceful protesters. On the other side of the often very literal line held by riot police, some demonstrators have blocked traffic, set fires and clashed with police officers.

Floyd, a black man, died after he was pinned to the pavement by a white police officer who put his knee on the handcuffed black man’s neck until he stopped breathing.

It was his death which set off protests that spread nationwide, but the fury on the street is fuelled by a history of brutality against black Americans.

Here's a look at what police and security forces have weaponised or used against protesters. 

Tear gas 

A tear gas canister was fired directly onto an unarmed man’s face by security forces in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

In another instance, a tear gas canister was fired at a journalist while reporting live on TV in Seattle.

Also in Seattle, a long line of security forces deployed tear gas directly on a crowd of protesters.

Although tear gas was banned in warfare by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, it is still permissible for use by domestic law enforcement as a means of crowd control. 

Tear gas is generally deemed non-lethal but critics argue that any non-lethal weapons can be used to inflict violence if done carelessly.  

“The problem with tear gas is that it's also an indiscriminate weapon,” Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union told PRI

“If you think about the way that it's being deployed, it doesn't really distinguish between young people and elderly, the healthy and the sick, people who are peaceful protesters or those who are using violence,” Dakwar explains.

Tear gas is only effective as a crowd control tactic when people are able to get away from the source of the gas. 

Exposure to the gas in an enclosed space can produce more acute symptoms. Prolonged exposure to the gas can trigger breathing problems such as asthma, as well as eye problems like scarring. 

A protester is assisted with a solution to help neutralize the effects of tear gas fired by police outside the Minneapolis 5th Police Precinct in Minneapolis on  May 30, 2020.
A protester is assisted with a solution to help neutralize the effects of tear gas fired by police outside the Minneapolis 5th Police Precinct in Minneapolis on May 30, 2020. (AP)

Rubber bullets 

Writer Linda Tirado says a rubber bullet struck her, blinding her in her left eye in Nashville.

Sally Ayhan, TRT World’s Washington correspondent, was injured in the chest and leg by rubber bullets during live coverage.

In Los Angeles, reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez says he was hit by such a bullet on his throat, leaving a livid red mark. 

Intended to be fired into the ground and into a crowd as a group-dispersal tactic, rubber bullets have instead been used in the US to indiscriminately maim protesters and journalists.


Low flying helicopters have been deployed to break up protests in Washington DC. 

As a helicopter in DC hovered right above protesters, gusts of wind caused part of a tree to fall, New York Times reporter, Zolan Kanno-Youngs said on Twitter. 

Video uploaded to social media by Kanno-Youngs showed protesters leaving the area below where a helicopter was hovering. 

The wind-generating tactic is used as a “show of force,” typically used in combat zones to disperse insurgents.

Under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, helicopters cannot be operated at an altitude less than 1,000 feet over congested areas.


The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agency last Friday flew a surveillance drone normally used for border patrols over Minneapolis, the city at the hub of protests.

The CBP said the drone “was preparing to provide live video to aid in situational awareness at the request of our federal law enforcement partners” but was diverted back upon reaching the city as authorities realised it was no longer needed.

Kuda Hove, a policy officer at Privacy International, said the use of the drone was an example of how easy it was for some governments to repurpose military-grade surveillance equipment to monitor and discourage the exercise of civilian rights.

From facial recognition cameras to phone tracking devices, monitoring tools can be abused to prosecute activists and dissenters and target vulnerable groups and minorities, according to Privacy International.

Police arrest a man in midtown Manhattan hours after a solidarity rally calling for justice over the death of George Floyd in New York on June 1, 2020.
Police arrest a man in midtown Manhattan hours after a solidarity rally calling for justice over the death of George Floyd in New York on June 1, 2020. (AP)

Under FAA regulations, drones should not be operated above a crowd of people.


Hollywood actor John Cusack says Chicago police charged at him with batons when he joined a protest on his bike over the weekend. 

In a video uploaded to Cusack’s Twitter account, voices can be heard yelling at Cusack, accompanied by the sound of a baton repeatedly hitting a bike. 

Under Chicago police regulations, baton use must be “objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional to the threat” and only as a control mechanism against passive and active resistors. 

Riot gear when used together compounds the injuries protesters and journalists incur. 

Footage on Monday showed Australia's 7NEWS reporter Amelia Brace being clubbed with a truncheon and cameraman Tim Myers being hit with a riot shield and punched in the face by police clearing Washington's Lafayette Square of protesters.

The journalists said they were later shot with rubber bullets and tear-gassed, which Brace said left the pair "a bit sore."

The knee 

One week after Floyd died in Minneapolis, an autopsy blamed his videotaped death squarely on Chauvin, the white police officer who pinned him down with his knee for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded, "I can't breathe!"

"The evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause of death, and homicide as the manner of death," said Aleccia Wilson, a University of Michigan expert who examined his body at the family's request.

Since Floyd’s death, security forces have also used their knee to pin down protesters, video on social media shows.  

Israeli security forces have racked up a reputation for using the knee to pin down Palestinians. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies