Video by Elena Thoman
Elena Thoman, aged 17, described to Amnesty International being tear gassed at two separate, peaceful protests on successive days on 29 and 30 May 2020, without warning, near the Capitol in Denver, Colorado:
“There was no order to disperse [on 29 May]. [The police] just started throwing tear gas and shooting flashbangs at the group. There was lots of smoke, so my friend and I ended up going up [the hill] on the Capitol to see and we could see cops throwing the canisters [where other people had congregated]. We could see the park below and we were just watching – no one was yelling and then, with no warning, the cops threw something into the middle of our group.”
The next afternoon, on 30 May, she returned to the area and was protesting for several hours.
“Then around 5.30pm, curfew was at 7pm, police started pulling up in SWAT cars. There were Denver police, Metro police, a SWAT team, armoured vehicles. Even though it was peaceful… there were around 200 people kneeling on the street with hands up, along Broadway. The police were trying to advance. There may have been an announcement to get off the street. But once people moved off the street, they threw tear gas onto the street, at least three [cannisters].”
She described the effects of the tear gas to Amnesty International:
“At first it feels like the feeling when you are chopping onions and then escalates to the point where your skin is burning – I had a lot of open skin and it was burning for an hour [afterwards]. It made me cough a lot – I had to take my mask off because the mask had tear gas in it… The tear gas got stuck under my mask and made it much worse. So even though there is COVID, I had to take my mask off.” 1
1 Amnesty International interview with Elena Thoman, Denver, Colorao, 11 June 2020.
On 7 June 2020, Aubreanna Inda, a 26-year-old student, was struck in the chest by a flash grenade as she was kneeling down approximately 20 feet in front of the Seattle police. She and her friends had been distributing food that evening to protesters. As police sought to push protesters back, threatening to deploy their weapons to forcibly move them if they did not disperse, she moved to the front to talk with the police to de-escalate the tension. Shortly after talking with the officers, Aubreanna Inda was hit with a flash grenade.
Danielle Meehan, an intensive care nurse who was standing at the aid station behind the protesters, said she could smell pepper spray and hear what sounded like bombs exploding everywhere as people started rushing toward the aid station. She was treating four different people – flushing chemical irritants from their eyes and treating welts on their arms and legs from being hit with flash grenades. As she was treating them, someone started screaming: “She’s been hit in the chest, she’s been hit in the chest.” Yet, even as Danielle and other street medics scrambled to treat Aubreanna Inda, police continued to fire tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets at them and the aid station. Police then advanced on the aid station, firing flash grenades and pepper balls inside. The station was clearly marked with identifying signs and red crosses and filled with tables stacked with water bottles and first aid supplies.
As Danielle and another medic rushed Aubreanna Inda on a makeshift stretcher out of the aid station, Danielle’s medic partner was hit on his calf with a flash grenade. They rushed Aubreanna Inda to a safe space four blocks away, where Danielle resuscitated Aubreanna Inda several separate times. At one point, Aubreanna Inda said to Danielle, “I feel like I am dying.” Danielle Meehan explained, “[She] lost her pulse 3-4 times after my medic partners and I started treating her. We resuscitated her each time with [cardiopulmonary resuscitation].”
They transported Aubreanna Inda in a private car to the hospital because no ambulance would come to them.1 She was told by doctors at the hospital that she died three times that night. In fact, she had suffered multiple cardiac arrests after being hit with the flash grenade and was subsequently diagnosed with a concussion and whiplash. She left the hospital the next day. In the days following the incident, she described how easily she tires and confirmed that she has difficulty breathing when standing, “I feel like someone is stepping on my chest.”2 At the time this report was published, Aubreanna Inda was resting at home, slowly trying to recover from her injuries.
Photo by: Megan Farmer/KUOW Photo
1 Amnesty International interview with Aubreanna Inda, Seattle, Washington, 27 June 2020; Amnesty International interview with Danielle Meehan, Seattle, Washington, 21 June 2020.
2 L. Jones and I. Raftery, This woman ‘died three times’ after Seattle Police hit her with a blast ball, KUOW Public Radio, 10 June 2020, www.kuow.org/stories/this-26-year-old-died-three-times-after-police-hit-her-with-a-blast-ball.
Link to video
On 1 June 2020, in central Philadelphia, state and city police used large amounts of tear gas and pepper spray to remove dozens of peaceful protesters from the Vine Street Expressway. One affected protester, Lizzie Horne, a Rabbinical student, told Amnesty International:
“Out of the blue, they started breezing pepper spray into the crowd. There was one officer on the median who was spraying as well. Then they started with tear gas. Someone who was right in the front – who had a tear gas canister hit his head and started running back. We were trying to help him, flushing his eyes and then he just fainted and started having a seizure. He came to pretty quickly. As we were finally lifting him up and getting him out of the way, they started launching more tear gas. That’s when people started to get really scared. They started gassing in a kettle formation – we were against a big fence that people had to jump over up a steep hill. The fence was maybe six feet tall.
People started putting their hands up – but the cops wouldn’t let up. It was can after can after can [of tear gas]. We were encapsulated in gas. We were drooling and coughing uncontrollably. Then the cops came from the other side of the fence and started gassing from that direction. After that the police started coming up the hill and… they were hitting and tackling people. They were dragging people down the hill and forcing them down on their knees, lining them up, kneeling on the median on the highway with their hands in zip ties – and pulling down their masks and spraying and gassing them again.” 1
1 Amnesty International interview with Lizzie Horne, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 11 June 2020.