UCSF ophthalmologists want police to stop using rubber bullets against protestors

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MAY 31: A San Jose Police officer prepares to fire a rubber bullet at a protester during a protest for the killing of George Floyd outside of San Jose City Hall in downtown San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Photo by N

The University of California at San Francisco Department of Ophthalmology launched a petition signed by nearly 400 doctors to stop the use of rubber bullets during protests, saying the practice can "result in blindness and other severe eye injuries, even death."

A 2017 British Medical Journal study, with authors from UCSF, found that 3 percent of people hit by rubber bullets died of the injury, and 15 percent were permanently injured.

The doctors emphasized that when fired at close range, rubber bullets can pierce the skin, break bones, fracture the skull, explode the eyeball, and cause serious brain and abdominal injuries. 


The petition, created last week, is also part of an open letter of support, to the American Academy of Ophthalmology Board of Trustees.

This request follows on the heels of a University of Washington petition, also supported with science from UCSF, urging police not to fire tear gas during protests, saying that the chemical agents can exacerbate the spread of coronavirus because of all the coughing it causes. 

In recent days, law enforcement agencies have used tear gas, flash grenades, pepper spray gas and projectiles to control crowds of demonstrators demanding justice for George Floyd, a black man killed on Memorial Day when a white officer sat on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in Minneapolis.

Police have countered that they have had to respond with these crowd-control tactics because protesters have been violent, throwing rocks and bottles at officers. 

The impetus for the UCSF petition came from Dr. Alejandra de Alba, professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics.

De Alba met the Chilean family of a 23-year-old man who sustained blinding injuries in August 2019 after being shot with rubber bullets during a protest in that country. But doctors were unable to treat him.  

“I remember thinking that I am so glad we live in a country where that doesn’t happen — where our own citizens would be mutilated while advocating for social justice,” de Alba said in a statement. “Unfortunately, just a few weeks later, I started seeing similar reports in the news and from colleagues around the country. This country.”

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@foxtv.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez