Story at a glance
- Police fired tear gas canisters into crowds of protestors at a number of demonstrations across the country.
- In Indiana, a 21-year-old student lost his eye after a tear gas canister hit his head during a protest in Fort Wayne.
- Police and witnesses have offered differing explanations of what happened during the protest.
Police threw tear gas canisters into crowds of protesters demonstrating against police violence in cities across the country this weekend. Outside the Allen County Courthouse in Fort Wayne, Ind., one of those canisters hit 21-year-old Balin Brake, a weekend editor at a local television station.
Brake was taken to the hospital with a ruptured eye and fractured occipital bone, according to a post tied to a Facebook fundraiser set up by his mother, Rachel Simonis. In a selfie taken after surgery, Brake revealed that he had lost his eye. By Monday, the fundraiser had exceeded the initial goal of $40,000 set to cover his medical bills.
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In a statement to WFFT, where Brake works part time, Fort Wayne police said he had bent over to pick up a canister, intending to throw it back at police, when another canister hit him in the eye.
fresh out of post op. I might have to have surgery for broken bones in my face within weeks to come but for now all that happened is I did end up losing my eye. This pales in comparison to the hardships aftican americans have endured for decades. Stand up for what u believe in. pic.twitter.com/9QK69wIgJQ— lens (@notbalin) May 31, 2020
"There was no deliberate deployment of gas to any person’s head," Sgt. Sofia Rosales-Scatena told WFFT.
Brake, who was not working for the station at the time, said he had no such intention and would not have tried to pick up a canister, knowing that they were hot and he was not wearing gloves. Still, Brake told the Journal Gazette losing his eye was "small collateral for the battle we’re fighting" and that as a white man, "if you’re not going to use [your white privilege] to advocate for your fellow people, then that is just wrong."
Online, some were confused by the pictures Balin posted, one of which was taken with a front-facing camera and the other with a rear-facing camera, which flips the image to show a mirror reflection. Some witnesses have also come forward claiming to have seen the incident and supporting Brake’s account.
I definitely saw someone take a direct hit to the face and drop to the ground. I can't say for certain that it was @notbalin but a few of the canisters certainly seemed to be fired at eye level from my perspective.— Michael Kuhn WANE 15 (@michaelkuhnnews) June 1, 2020
While many protesters around the country are wearing face masks for protection against the coronavirus, their eyes remain vulnerable to tear gas and other projectiles. Journalist Linda Tirado also lost an eye after being hit by a rubber bullet while covering a protest in Minneapolis. While many protesters have also been hurt, members of the media have been arrested and injured at rates that have shocked many onlookers.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told The Washington Post. “Many of the norms have broken down.”
CORRECTION: This story has been edited to reflect that Fort Wayne is in Indiana, not Texas, as was stated in an earlier version.
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