Broken Jaw, Seven Teeth And An Eye Lost To Protesting: Anthony Evans says his hands were in the air: “You know, to show that I wasn’t a threat.” The young Black man, who had just turned 26 years old, had been protesting outside the police department headquarters in Austin, Texas, on May 31, when he was separated from his twin brother.
The evening had passed relatively peacefully until that moment, Evans said, but as he walked back to try to find his twin, he noticed the tension escalating between police and protesters.
“As I put my hands in the air and started to jog, I got shot in the face, and then, I went down to my knees,” he told Al Jazeera. He could not be entirely sure what hit him at the time: a rubber bullet or beanbag round. But it had been fired by police, he said.
Acting on impulse, he first moved to shield a nearby woman from the incoming fire, but then, she noticed that he was the one bleeding and went to get help.
After getting brief attention at a civilian care station, Evans said he walked off in the direction of his home with blood running down his swollen face. “My phone was dead, I was by myself, I had no friends or family with me, so at that point, I was like, ‘I just got to get home, I got to get to somewhere safe.”
“He tried to flag down a passing car whose driver, he said, looked confused, shook his head and drove off. Then, he found a police officer. “I cautiously put my hands in the air and started walking towards the officer,” he recalled. According to Evans, the officer told him he could not help because he had to go “shut down the highway”.
“He just drove off without hearing my side of what happened,” Evans explained. That left the Austin native with only one real option: Walk the remaining five miles or eight kilometres (he had already walked three miles or 4.8km) to his home.
Once there, he headed towards the bathroom to have his first look at the injury. “I saw my face, and I freaked out a little bit,” he said. Although he wanted to wait it out at home at least until the next morning, Evans noticed he was spitting up blood clots and feared the worst.
He took some ibuprofen and drove to the hospital. Three days and two surgeries to repair the damage and place a permanent titanium plate in his broken jaw later, he was released from the hospital.
The attack on Evans, and others like it, came nearly a week after mass nationwide protests prompted by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people. But the largely peaceful demonstrators met the very thing they were protesting against: police brutality and violence.
About a three-hour-and-15-minute drive north of Austin, in the city of Dallas, Brandon Saenz did not know he had been hit until he saw the blood pouring from his face.
The then-25-year-old had been protesting nearby on May 30 when, looking for a friend to head home, he walked towards another crowd of protesters, who he said were peacefully demonstrating and holding signs in the air.
“I had my hands on my side, and all I heard was a loud boom,” Saenz told Al Jazeera. “Blood just started gushing out.” Video of the aftermath shows Saenz laying on the ground, his face bloodied, surrounded by other protesters and civilian medics.
Saenz’s lawyer, Jasmine Crockett, said police did not attempt to get medical attention for the young Black man, and initially, “there was an issue with them [law enforcement] actually allowing an ambulance in” to attend to Saenz.
Eventually, an ambulance rushed Saenz to the hospital, where he was told he had lost his left eye, seven teeth and would have to undergo multiple surgeries to repair facial fractures to the left side of his face. He was released from the hospital on his 26th birthday.
Volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls and other less-lethal weapons have been launched by law enforcement in the more than three weeks of protests that have gripped cities nationwide.
Protests that started as outrage over recent police killings of Black people have since ballooned into wider demonstrations against the police violence used on protesters, with calls for the defunding of police departments nationwide.
The number of arrests at the demonstrations hit 10,000 on June 4, the Associated Press reported. Hundreds have been detained since, according to local media. Police have largely pointed to some incidents of violence, vandalism, looting and curfew violations as justification for their use of force.
There were no curfews in place when both Saenz and Evans were hit. But protesters and experts alike said the increased militarisation of police forces and deep-seated institutional racism have created a situation where aggression is often law enforcement’s first response.