AUSTIN, Texas — A 20-year-old black protester was critically injured May 31 when an officer shot him with "less-lethal" ammunition during a weekend of protests, according to Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.
The young man was identified as Justin Howell, a political science student at Texas State University, in an op-ed article written by his brother, Joshua Howell, who is the opinion editor for Texas A&M's student newspaper, "The Battalion."
"I knew who this unidentified black man was at around 5:45 that morning, though I confess I sometimes have trouble thinking of him as a 'man.' His name is Justin Howell. And he is my little brother," Joshua Howell wrote in the op-ed piece.
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Joshua Howell explains his experience of finding out what happened to his brother, both in the form of watching a press conference given by Manley on Monday, June 1, and also interviewing David Frost, who recorded a video of protesters carrying his brother toward police before being fired upon, as well. You can view the video he's referencing here.
Joshua Howell wrote that Frost told him “other protesters were throwing rocks, water bottles and a backpack. [Justin] was not. The chief of police even said on Facebook Live today. They shot the WRONG person.”
KVUE reported that Manley said one victim from Sunday was recording on his phone and standing next to someone, who Manley said threw a water bottle at police officers in front of the headquarters building. The person who threw the water bottle also threw a backpack he was wearing at the officers, Manley said. According to Manley, APD officers shot a less-lethal round at this person who threw the backpack, but the round hit the man recording on his phone, instead, in the head.
Manley was emotional when addressing the incident involving Justin Howell and another involving a teenage Hispanic male who was also injured over the weekend.
"I'm crushed. I've cried a few times today," the police chief said on June 1. "This was two very young people that we believe are from our community but regardless of what community they are from ... one is, at least, fighting for their life and the other one has been seriously injured, as well. That is not what we set out to do as a police department. That was not what we set out to do this weekend. Again, we were trying to come out and protect their First Amendment right."
"[Justin] 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," Joshua Howell said in his op-ed article.
State Rep. Erin Zwiener issued the following statement regarding Justin Howell:
“Justin Howell was exercising his first amendment right to demonstrate. He did not deserve to be shot in the head. I am reaching out to the City of Austin for answers about this unacceptable use of force and will be demanding accountability from Chief of Police Brian Manley. I am horrified at what I saw on the video, and it raises serious questions about the actions of the Austin Police Department. Firing 'less lethal' rounds indiscriminately into a crowd is never acceptable, and a young man is fighting for his life because of their poor judgment. Our police officers should not behave like they’re in a combat zone and Americans are the enemy.”
Manley said a level-one investigation began looking into the incident, which remains ongoing.
A GoFundMe has been started to raise money for Justin Howell. You can view that fundraiser here.
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