Austin police are facing heightened scrutiny as more details emerge about the 20-year-old Black protestor who officers critically injured with “less lethal ammunition” during a weekend protest. In a column for Texas A&M college newspaper, The Battalion, opinion editor Joshua Howell identifies the victim as his “little brother” Justin Howell.
According to the Texas Tribune, Howell was attending a protest in Austin on Sunday that turned violent. He was there to demand justice for George Floyd who was killed by the Minneapolis police, and Michael Ramos, an unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by Austin police in late April. Police Chief Brian Manley says around 11 p.m. that evening, the Texas State University student was standing near police headquarters when another protester lobbed projectiles at officers. The police on the scene retaliated by firing a bean bag round of “less-lethal ammunition.” Instead of hitting the correct target, Howell was hit at the base of the skull, according to one witness account.
Protesters say Howell fell to the ground after being struck, and those around him attempted to seek out medical attention. The men and women attempting to aid him were instructed by police to carry Howell toward them, but as they were doing so, officers began shooting ammunition at those assisting. The moment was captured on video and circulated widely on social media.
One of the women also shared her account of what transpired on social media. She was struck in the hand. “I was clearing the path, with my hands up (crossed wrists, our signal that I was volunteering for the medical tent across the street),” Meredith Michael writes. “They started to fire into the crowd, and shot my hands, from no more than 3 feet away. I don’t remember falling to the ground, injuring my shoulder, hip, and neck. I woke up to what seemed like the relentless sound of these “less lethal” bean bags… And my own screaming.”
Howell was eventually carried into the police building and transported to the hospital. His brother Joshua reports, “He has a fractured skull. He has brain damage. Doctors anticipate that when he wakes up, he will have difficulty telling his left from his right.”
Manly, at a press conference, said that the department was praying for Justin Howell and his family, but did not take responsibility for his officer’s actions. In response Justin wrote that while his family is deeply religious, “We aren’t interested in your prayers. We are interested in you appropriately using the responsibilities with which the people of Austin have entrusted you. Prayer is not an excuse to abdicate responsibility.”
The police department has opened up an internal investigation into the case. Manley is asking anybody with video evidence or first-hand accounts related to Justin Howell’s critical injury, to come forward.