DENVER (KDVR) — Wielding a sign that says, “No justice, No peace,” Russell Strong and his friends marched to Civic Center Park Saturday to protest peacefully.
What Strong didn’t know is the events Saturday would change his life forever.
“I don’t know if it bounced off something, or if it was shot directly at me, but it hit me in the face,” Strong said.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Strong remembers hearing a loud bang. Strong believes it was a flash-bang device thrown at him by Denver police.
“Like everything else just disappears in that moment,” Strong said.
A spokesperson for the Denver Police Department says it doesn’t use those concussive devices.
“I was committing no crime,” Strong said. “Even if that was justified force, I wasn’t committing a crime, so I just don’t know why that’s OK and why it continues to happen.”
The 35-year-old Lakewood man now needs several facial reconstructive surgeries with broken bones around his eye, and the right side of his jaw needs to be realigned.
“In the morning it’s really overwhelming and daunting to gather myself and compose myself for the day,” Strong said. “To get no sleep and then get up in the morning, and then have to try to learn how to adjust. Like, I don’t even know what it’s going to take to adjust.”
Despite the fear of how he will move forward with his life, Strong has perspective and is hopeful what he lost that day won’t be for nothing.
“I’m not dead like George Floyd, you know what I mean? I’m not dead like so many others who have been brutalized by police,” Strong said. “For me, if there is a recognizable change in our justice, if there is reform at a level where we can see that these type of situations happen far less, or there’s more accountability, then I will be able to feel like I lost an eye for a good reason.”
A spokesperson for DPD says they have concern and empathy for anyone who was injured exercising their First Amendment rights.
Strong is scheduled to have his right eye surgically removed Thursday.
A GoFundMe account has been established to help him pay for medical expenses.