‘I want my left eye back’: those injured by 2020’s police violence speak out

The brutal police response to protests against George Floyd’s murder has resulted in millions paid out to the injured.

“You don’t recover from something like this. That’s not a thing you do,” said journalist Linda Tirado, who was partly blinded after being fired on by the police while covering the protests that engulfed Minneapolis for months after George Floyd was slowly murdered in plain public view by a senior police officer in the city.

Tirado is one of many who were injured in the protests that year and won a legal case against the city, which has already agreed to pay out at least $5.1m in settlements to demonstrators – using city funds – and is estimated to be facing an additional $100m more in potential payouts as a result of lawsuits.

Her settlement is just one of many that add up to what experts deem a record level of payouts across the US as a result of violent policing of the 2020 protests, with likely many more to come.

While photographing demonstrations, Tirado says an officer shot a projectile at her face. Bleeding profusely, Tirado was taken by protesters to a nearby hospital where she was rushed into surgery, but lost the sight in one eye.

She now deals with short-term memory loss, a lack of depth perception and other health issues. She can no longer drive and has trouble with simple tasks like cooking. She was awarded $600,000 by the city in May 2022, the Minnesota Reformer reported. The funds addressed her medical debt, but not the long-lasting impacts on her work and life.

“There is no [appropriate] amount. Because you know what I want? I want my left eye back,” Tirado said.

She added that the settlement legal process was emotionally invasive and traumatic and called the undertaking “the hardest thing you’ll ever do”.

During the mass demonstrations across the country against police violence, police injured many and, like Tirado, some were severely wounded by so-called “less-than-lethal” weapons, including rubber bullets and beanbag projectiles.

In a global report by Amnesty International, the organization said countries around the world, including the US, increasingly use ammunition against peaceful protesters that is less dangerous than actual bullets but can still cause permanent injury or death.

Anthony Evans said he was shot in the jaw by police firing just such a less-than-lethal round as he took part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Austin, Texas.

“We were never, like, cussing or yelling in their face or anything. It was all just peaceful,” said Evans.

Officers refused to provide Evans with medical assistance, he said. He walked seven miles home and drove himself to the hospital.

He was hospitalized for nearly a week and a half then endured several surgeries and an infection after doctors initially mistreated his shattered jaw, he said.

“It was a very arduous journey of just going through surgery after surgery,” said Evans, who ultimately had his jaw wired shut for more than five months and could only consume liquids.

He concluded: “Unfortunately, we were down there protesting police brutality – and we were met with more brutality by the police.”

Evans and other injured protesters in the city who sued have received a total of $17.3m in settlements so far, the Austin American-Statesman reported, and 19 Austin officers were indicted.

In New York, the city and its police department have agreed to pay upwards of $6m total to 320 protesters who were subject to excessive force during a June 2020 protest in a Bronx neighborhood – including being zip-tied, hit with batons and pepper-sprayed – while the police were surrounding and squeezing them together using a technique known as “kettling”.

“The violence unleashed upon us that night was intentional, unwarranted and will be with me for the rest of my life,” said Charles Henry Wood, one of the plaintiffs, in a March statement.

Plaintiff Samira Sierra told New York magazine she was body-slammed by six officers and she remembers screams from protesters and then people passing out around her as they were crushed in.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Jonathan Ballew, who reported on the protests there, said the lack of change within policing practices was the most difficult part of his experience.

Ballew was pepper-sprayed by a Chicago police officer. He later received $40,000 as part of a $115,000 settlement, along with another journalist. Separately, 60 protesters have filed a federal lawsuit against Chicago police officers, alleging abuse during the 2020 protests, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Ballew noted that police spending has sharply increased for many police departments and more people were actually killed by police after 2020 racial justice protests than in previous years.

“The increased police budgets, surveillance and police violence all seem to be back on the rise. It’s pretty disappointing,” he said, adding: “It seems like we’re repeating the same mistakes that led us to George Floyd.”

Gloria Oladipo