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Hong Kong, China: Widespread use of laser pointers during protests

Handheld lasers are being used by protesters in Hong Kong against police officers, police buildings, and surveillance cameras.

Protests against increased Chinese control of Hong Kong began in March and April 2019. On June 21, lasers were aimed at police officers' eyes.

The use of lasers increased dramatically after the August 6 2019, arrest of 20-year-old Hong Kong Baptist University student union president Keith Fong for having 10 laser pointers. (According to the South China Morning Post, laser pointers are readily available for less than HK $100 [USD $13].) Fong claimed he purchased them for stargazing. Persons around him chanted "release him" but police arrested him for "possession of offensive weapons.”

Police said that laser pointers are not prohibited in Hong Kong, but if they are used in an attack or are intended for use in an attack, then they are considered offensive weapons. During an August 7 2019 press conference, Li Kwai-wah, Superintendent of the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau said “…many of our colleagues have been injured by these items. And sensors in some of our video cameras were damaged. So we strongly believe that these items, which are capable of hurting people and destroying things, are indeed ‘offensive weapons.’” Police then demonstrated how the blue beam from a pointer taken from Fong could cause black ink on a newspaper to begin smoking at a range of about 20 inches.

Fong’s arrest set off demonstrations and a rally to demand his release. Critics of the police arrest said Fong’s laser pointers were legal unless they were actually being used to attack. The protests were marked by widespread use of laser pointers. At one point, a protester held up a newspaper and dozens of lasers were shined on it, without affecting the paper. (This was to show how laser beams as used in demonstrations — at distances much longer than 20 inches and handheld onto uncooperative targets — would not have the same effect as holding a beam steady on an unmoving target at close range.)


Studio Incendo via Wikipedia, cc-by-2.0


Protesters also aimed their laser pointers at the dome of the Hong Kong Space Museum, creating a "laser show" that may have been a takeoff on the nightly "Symphony of Lights" show around Hong Kong's harbor.


Protesters at the Hong Kong Science Museum. Studio Incendo via Wikipedia, cc-by-2.0


Hong Kong
Symphony of Lights laser show, presented nightly at 8 pm by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.


According to Wikipedia, during the laser pointer protest "some chanted slogans like 'laser pointer revolution' and joked 'Is the building on fire yet?' They hoped to show support to Fong and voice condemnation of his arrest by police, and to show that laser pointers are neither offensive weapons nor effective enough to cause a fire." A writer tweeted that the mood was festive: "This is the joyous, comedic side of [the protests] I’ve been missing amid the miasma of tear gas. Tonight was something we all needed: no tears, no blood, just laughter, song, and dance.”

Fong was released on August 8 2019, after being detained for two days.

Use of laser pointers continued in subsequent protests. For example, on August 14, lasers were aimed at a police station in the Sham Shui Po area of Kowloon. Police responded by firing tear gas to disperse the group.

On August 13, during demonstrations that closed Hong Kong airport, a person was beaten by protesters. According to Global Times, "the rioters began assaulting him by cuffing his hands behind his back, splashing water on his head and pointing laser beams into his face. He was denied medical help for hours until being rescued at around 10:40pm by Hong Kong police."

For more photos and information, see the page "Laser use during protests"

From Vice News (Aug. 8 story about "All-Night Laser Party"), South China Morning Post (Aug. 7 story, "Hongkongers rally to demand release of student arrested over possession of laser pens"; Aug. 8 story, "Laser pointer as 'weapon', explained"), CBC News (Aug. 11 story, "Hong Kong protesters use laser pointers to deter police, scramble facial recognition"), Infosurhoy (Aug. 13 story, "Hong Kong protesters gather for 'laser show' rally"), Washington Post (Aug. 14 story, "After airport mayhem, Hong Kong protesters face tipping point in battle for hearts and minds"), Global Times (Aug. 14 story, "Netizens furious over rioters' assault of mainland passenger at HK airport"), Wikipedia article on "2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests" accessed August 14 2019.

US: Student suspended 10 days, faced possible expulsion for laser pointer use in school

Quinn Mulcahy, a 6th-grade student playing with a laser pointer in a school hallway on May 25 2019, was suspended for two weeks and faced possible expulsion, despite his possession and use apparently being legal.

The Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ “Code of Student Conduct” prohibits weapons in school. It specifically addresses pointers: “When a laser pen is used to threaten, intimidate or injure, it is considered a weapon.”

The boy’s father, Paul Mulcahy, told LaserPointerSafety.com that his son only aimed a legal, low-powered laser pointer at lockers and the wall in Landstown Middle School. He said it was never used in an aggressive or potentially harmful manner. Mulcahy's account was not disputed by the school.

Mulcahy wrote “no kid should be suspended or expelled for having a cat toy at school…. A ‘spork’ from the cafeteria if used to threaten, intimidate or injure would be a more likely weapon than a 2 mW laser pointer.”

During an initial meeting on May 30, principal John Parkman told Mulcahy he was instructed to use a “Discipline Guidelines” document not available to parents, students or the public. The principal did email the father a page from the Discipline Guidelines about laser pointers which seemed to restate the Code of Conduct language. (The VBCPS Office of Student Leadership confirmed on June 11 that the Discipline Guidelines are "administration-only.")

At a second meeting on June 2, the principal said the VBCPS Office of Student Leadership decided the infraction was “Inappropriate Property” and there would be no further punishment or action beyond the two-week suspension that had already occurred.

The Code of Student Conduct defines inappropriate property as follows: “The unauthorized possession of use of any type of personal property, which disrupts the educational process, is prohibited. Specifically prohibited are electronic devices when they are not authorized or being used for academic purposes (including cell phones), lighters and other items deemed inappropriate….”

In the Discipline Guidelines, the recommended penalty for Inappropriate Property depends on the property. One option is a verbal warning or reprimand called “Level 1.” The penalty for the boy turned out to be Level 6, suspension 6-10 days. As stated above, Mulcahy had been told that expulsion was also possible. Expulsion is "Level 8," the highest punishment level.

On June 9, the school returned the laser pointer to Mulcahy.

Mulcahy says he has retained a lawyer and may take action against the principal and/or school board.
Click to read more...

US: Police cars in Vienna, Va. hit multiple times by laser pointer

A report from the Vienna, Virginia police department describes multiple laser illuminations:

On May 2 2019, around 8:40 pm, "an officer was driving northbound on Nutley Street when his vehicle was struck multiple times with a green laser pointer. A Fairfax County Police Officer also advised his vehicles had been struck by the laser pointer that night. A similar incident happened to another officer a few weeks before this incident."

From Tysons Reporter

Australia: NSW woman convicted of using a laser pointer in public, plus one other charge

A woman in Dubbo, New South Wales, was convicted May 6 2019 of using a laser pointer in a public place, as well as impersonating a police officer.

On January 14 2019, Danielle Therese Emery, 49, was aiming a blue laser pointer into the sky. When police investigated, they found a car with a light bar with red and blue LED lights. Emery said she used the bar only to scare friends.

Emery sent the court a "heartfelt letter of admission and regret," and the court accepted that she was "probably not aware of the seriousness of the conduct in question."

Emery was sentenced with a community corrections order of 12 months. The standard conditions for such an order are "the offender must not commit any offence and must appear before the court if called upon during the term of the order." Additional conditions may be applied but were not mentioned in the news story about Emery.

From the Daily Liberal

Switzerland: Trams canceled after series of laser attacks on drivers

A tram line operating between Basil, Switzerland and St-Louis, France has shut down night operations, after numerous attacks from the France side with stones and laser pointers.

There is no apparent reason for the attacks. Laser pointers were used "on many occasions". Security guards were on call in France, but were unable to stop the attacks.

Drivers refused to go to St-Louis because of the attacks. The shutdown came on May 2 2019 after a female tram driver was illuminated with a laser pointer, and went for medical treatment.

From The Local and (in German) Basler Zeitung

Canada: Laser pointer harassment ends with machete, bat assault

On August 3 2018, two cars full of young adults were allegedly shining a laser beam into a homeless camp known as Discontent City, in the Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo. Two residents of the tent city tried to stop the cars from leaving, made verbal threats, and attacked the vehicles with machetes and a baseball bat.

The men were arrested in September 2018 and were arraigned April 16 2019. Both were charged with assault with a weapon, and possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose. One of the men was also charged with a breach of undertaking or recognizance. Trial was set for June 5 2019.

No charges were levied against those involved with the laser pointer harassment.

From the Nanaimo News Bulletin (arraignment story and original story)

India: "Laser" aimed at Rahul Gandhi is from lens flare

Video taken in early April 2019 of Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi being interviewed outdoors in a crowd of media shows a green dot occasionally appearing on his head.

Congress leaders said the dot was from a laser, possibly mounted on a sniper gun. In a letter sent to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, they wrote "…A (green) laser was pointed at [Gandhi's] head, intermittently on at least seven separate occasions in a short period; including twice at his temple on the right side of the head…. A perusal of the video by various persons including former security personnel leads to a prima facie conclusion that this laser could emanate from a potential weapon such as a sniper gun."

The Ministry of Home Affairs countered that the light came from a cameraman's mobile phone. A MHA spokesperson said "The green light shown in the clipping was found to be that of a mobile phone used by the AICC [All India Congress Committee] photographer, who was videographing the impromptu press interaction of Shri Rahul Gandhi near the collectorate at Amethi. Director (SPG [Special Protection Group]) has also informed MHA that this position was conveyed to the personal staff of Shri Rahul Gandhi."


Still frame from 15 seconds into the interview video clip, with a green dot on Rahul Gandhi's head circled. The entire YouTube video can be seen
here.


Congress Party leaders were especially concerned about security since Rahul Gandhi's grandmother and father, both former prime ministers of India, were both assassinated.

From Business Today and The Hindu

COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM:

We are not aware of any mobile phones that come with green laser pointers. There is a iPhone accessory called iPin that fits into the audio jack, but this emits a low-power red beam.

The green dot only appears when there is a bright sun reflection in the camera lens. In the still frame above, a microphone logo cover is reflecting into the lens, at exactly the time the green dot appears. Here is another still frame with the same effect, from about 1:34 into the video clip. Once again, the dot corresponds with a bright reflection from the microphone logo cover.



The green dot, therefore seems to be caused by lens flare — internal reflections inside the camera lens. The camera sensor sees the lens flare dot, but there would be no dot "outside" in the real world or on Rahul Gandhi.

This may be what the MHA meant by "the light … was found to be that of a mobile phone," e.g. that the dot was internal to the phone's lens.

This is the second video we have seen from India where it was claimed lasers were being used, but the explanation turned out to be lens flare. The first case involved alleged laser harassment of an elephant.

UK: 68 attacks on West Yorkshire firefighters in 9 months; 2 of these involved lasers

Between April and December 2018, there were 68 attacks on West Yorkshire firefighters, according to a February 2019 report by the West Yorkshire Fire Authority.

In some cases, rocks or other objects were thrown at the firefighters or their equipment. In other cases, firefighters were verbally abused.

In two of the 68 cases, lasers were involved:

  • On 30 September 2018, at 1837 hours whilst attending a fire in the open at Lonsdale Street, Bradford a group of youths threw fireworks onto the fire, verbally abused the crews and shone laser pens into their eyes.
  • On 27th May 2018 at 2310 hours a laser pen was pointed at crews whilst they responded to an incident on The Crescent, Ravensthorpe. The occupier also became abusive and admitted causing the fire.

The complete list of 68 attacks was published in the Telegraph and Argus on February 16 2019.

US: Laser aimed from Mexico, across border, at Texas police officers

Two police officers from Roma, Texas (a small city along the Rio Grande river, and a port of entry from Mexico) had lasers aimed at their eyes while on patrol in February 2019. One officer had medical attention and treatment and then returned to duty.

An assistant chief of police, Francisco Garcia, said other officers from other agencies had also had lasers aimed at them in the past 30-45 days. He said it never happened before with direct hits in the eyes that caused damage.

Garcia said "This is just one of the many tactics the cartel and the criminal organizations will use to distract officers and get us away from a certain area to start illegally crossing contraband, drugs, people, everything, they cross."

He also noted concerns over whether the laser was stand-alone such as a pointer, or whether it is mounted on a weapon.

From ValleyCentral.com and KRGV.com

New Zealand: Man aimed laser into two police officers' eyes

A New Zealand man aimed a laser pointer at police officers who were conducting a bail check on June 3 2018. When the officers arrived, Niki John Gamble-Mackesy, 23, deliberately aimed a green "high-powered" laser pointer [likely over the 1 milliwatt New Zealand limit] directly into the officers' eyes.

They felt "immediate discomfort and a burning sensation in their eyes" according to the police report. One of the officers had pain and headaches for the next two days, and was seen by an optometrist. There was no permanent injury to either officer.

Gamble-Mackesy was sentenced in Hamilton District Court on February 5 2019 to four years, three months in jail, and was also ordered not to drive for two years. Charges against him included injuring with intent to injure, threatening to kill, obstructing the course of justice, dangerous driving, driving while disqualified, failing to stop for police, and two charges of committing an act of criminal nuisance. It was not clear how much of his jail term, and how many of the charges, directly related to his laser attack on the police officers, and how many related to additional criminal actions he had taken such as strangling his domestic partner on May 26 2018, and attacking her again on June 8.

From Stuff.co.nz

Japan: Man arrested for aiming laser at bus driver in road rage act

Tokyo police in late January 2019 arrested a man for pointing a laser beam at the driver of a city bus last year. The man reportedly told police he got angry because the bus had cut in front of his car.

Police say the 38-year-old man aimed a laser pointer at the driver when he pulled alongside the bus that parked at a stop in Meguro Ward during July 2018. He was arrested for suspicion of assaulting the driver and obstructing public services.

The bus driver was unharmed but he felt that something was wrong with his eyes. He continued driving to the next stop before another driver took over.

The man left the scene at the time. But police identified him with security camera footage after receiving a report.

The man reportedly admitted to the charges.

Many similar incidents have been reported across Japan in recent years.

From NHK World-Japan

US: UPDATED - NFL quarterback targeted by laser pointer during game; fan eventually found and fined $500

National Football League quarterback Tom Brady was targeted by a green laser beam during a NFL playoff game on January 20 2019. The beam was not noticed at the time, but a reporter saw it in a video playback.



KMBC reporter William Joy highlighted the green laser beam, seen here on the center of Tom Brady's helmet. The laser appeared to be around 4 inches wide, and danced on the quarterback's upper body — it was not held steady. Video by Turner Twyman.

According to Joy, the beam was on Brady's eyes and helmet at least three times during the game: "…once right after the muffed Julian Edelman punt call was overturned when Patriots retook possession, once on a completion to Chris Hogan, and once on a deep ball to Rob Gronkowski."

The NFL's security department was looking into the incident. As of January 23 2019, Kansas City police have not received a complaint but say they will investigate if a complaint is filed.

From the Washington Post, Boston Globe, musketfire.com and many other news sources. Sports Illustrated has an especially detailed look at the safety and legal issues around laser pointer misuse at NFL games. Thanks to Doug McCullough for bringing this to our attention.

COMMENTARY BY LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM: Based on the brightness and size of the beam in the videos, it is highly unlikely that this had enough irradiance (power density) to cause harm to any person's eyes.

Light from a laser pointer can harm human eyes at close ranges; within a few yards or meters. But at the distances involved, from a person in the stands to a player on the field, light from a handheld laser pointer would spread out (as the video shows) and would not be steady enough to allow dangerous heat to build up in the eye. This goes for both visible green light, and any non-visible infrared light (some poorly-constructed green laser pointers also emit non-visible infrared light).

The worst effect would be glare or brief flashblindness, like when a camera flash goes off close to a person's face. Since Brady did not seem to notice, and others — national sportscasters and the two teams involved — also did not notice anything unusual at the time, the laser targeting did not seem to affect the outcome of the play or of the game.

LaserPointerSafety.com has more stories about lasers misused during sporting events.

UPDATED February 3 2019: ESPN reported that Kansas City Chiefs officials, using videotape and eyewitnesses, identified the person who aimed a laser at New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The person has been banned for life from the Chiefs' stadium. The officials have asked the Kansas City district attorney to bring the strongest possible charges against the person, to act as a deterrent.

ESPN also reported that "…members of the military have reached out to Brady to inform him that the lasers shined near his face could cause irreversible eye damage."

From ESPN and many subsequent sources such as the Boston Herald and CBS Sports

UPDATED April 11 2019: Dwyan Morgan, 64, was identified as the man who aimed a laser at Tom Brady during the American Football Conference championship game on January 20 2019. He was cited with one count of disturbing the peace; the penalty is up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. Morgan will appear in Jackson County Municipal Court on July 17.

According to Heavy.com, Morgan is an electrician from Lee's Summit, Missouri. The website also said that a younger male relative posted items on Facebook making light of the citation and Brady.


Dwyan Morgan


According to TMZ, "Sources connected to Morgan tell us ... his intention was never to hurt anyone, he was just trying to have fun and didn't expect things to blow up the way they did. We're also told Morgan was drinking before the laser incident...." TMZ also reported that "One source close to the Chiefs fan says he feels bad for embarrassing Chiefs Nation, but has no plans to apologize to the Patriots. In fact, we're told he still hates the Pats and Tom Brady ... passionately and will continue to root against them -- just not from Arrowhead [Stadium], because he's been banned."

From the
Boston Herald, Heavy.com, TMZ, and a press release from the Jackson County Prosecutor

UPDATED May 13 2019: Dwyan Morgan told Inside Edition he did not intend to injure Tom Brady. Morgan said he was intoxicated and wanted to distract the quarterback. He said "I shouldn't have done it" but also said he is not gong to apologize to Brady or the Patriots football team. From Inside Edition


Dwyan Morgan recreates his aiming a laser pointer at Tom Brady, for the TV show Inside Edition



Dwyan Morgan and his 23-year-old son Colton both appear to be amused by Dwyan getting a misdemeanor citation for "Disturbing the peace by shining a laser pointer in the direction of Tom Brady during a football game."


UPDATED July 18 2019: On July 17 2019 Dwyan Morgan pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace. He was fined $500. He was not given any jail time. From TMZ Sports and the Associated Press via KSNT.com