Who is Justin Howell? Texas Student Critically Injured by Austin Police During Protests

Justin Howell, a 20-year-old black protester, was critically injured after police in Austin, Texas shot him with "less-lethal" munition during demonstrations against police brutality on Sunday night.

Howell's identity was revealed in an op-ed written by his older brother Joshua Howell in Texas A&M University's student newspaper The Battalion.

Joshua Howell, a computer science graduate student at Texas A&M and the student newspaper's opinion editor, said he found out what happened to his brother early on Monday.

He wrote: "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."

Texas
Thousands of members of the community gathered to mourn the death of George Floyd during a march across downtown Houston, Texas on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images

During a news briefing, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Howell had been standing near police headquarters during a demonstration at around 11 p.m. on Sunday night when another man threw a water bottle and his backpack at officers.

"One of the officers fired their less-lethal munition at that individual, apparently, but it struck this victim instead," he said. "And this victim then fell to the ground, and it appears as though he hit his head when he fell to the ground as well."

Manley said Howell was hit by a bean bag round, the Texas Tribune reported, but rubber bullets were also seen on the ground in Austin during protests at the weekend.

In his op-ed, Joshua Howell said doctors have told his family that his brother—a political science student at Texas State University—has a fractured skull and brain damage.

"Doctors anticipate that when he wakes up, he will have difficulty telling his left from his right," he wrote.

"These 'less-lethal' munitions are only 'less-lethal' by technicality. My brother's condition shows what can happen when you fire them into a crowd."

He also slammed Austin police for firing at protesters who had been instructed to bring his injured brother toward officers.

@arianalipkin pic.twitter.com/ZGHtMpPj8B

— David Frost (@DavidFr31601156) June 1, 2020

He referred to a video which has gone viral on social media that showed a group of people "carrying Justin's limp body toward police headquarters, begging the officers to get him medical attention." As they approach, police are seen firing more than a dozen rounds at them.

Manley said that an investigation into the shooting is ongoing.

"They were given direction to bring him to the officers… it's reported that they were fired upon with less-lethal munition as they brought this victim towards the officers to get him medical help," Manley said, adding Howell was then loaded into an ambulance and taken to hospital.

"We are praying for this young man and his family, and we're hoping that his condition improves quickly," he said.

Joshua Howell said the incident shows Austin police are "entirely out of their depth."

"It takes a special kind of incompetence to fire at those who are doing as the police tell them," he wrote. "At minimum, it shows a complete inability to be aware of your surroundings and to manage the situation appropriately."

He added that he had spoken with David Frost, the man who filmed the video, who told him that "other protesters were throwing rocks, water bottles, and a backpack. [Justin] was not."

Joshua Howell also condemned Manley for not apologizing or taking responsibility for what happened.

"We aren't interested in your prayers," he wrote. "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. And responsible you are."

During his briefing, Manley said a woman who was providing medical attention near police headquarters on Sunday was also struck by an "impact munition."

Manley said that police are also investigating another incident that occurred during protests on Saturday after a video shared on social media showed that a Hispanic teenager, aged 15 or 16, had been struck in the forehead with less-lethal munition by police.

Joshua Howell and the Austin Police Department have been contacted for additional comment.

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,It is difficult to find the words to share this news with you. Today, I learned that...

Posted by Texas State University on Wednesday, 3 June 2020

In a statement, Texas State University said "what was already a heartbreaking situation has hit painfully close to home."

"We are thinking of Justin's family, friends, and classmates during this time and hope for his full recovery and healing," it said.

The statement added: "We are in the middle of a national emergency centuries in the making, and people are crying out to be heard. The headlines, the videos, and the experiences of our community are overwhelming to watch, and now one of our own in the Texas State family has been gravely hurt. Black Lives Matter. It is not debatable at Texas State. Justin Howell's life matters."

Cities across the U.S. have been rocked by more than a week of protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody.

Floyd died on May 25 after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for more than eight minutes as he gasped that he couldn't breathe during an arrest.

That officer, Derek Chauvin, has now been charged with second-degree murder and three other officers who were involved in Floyd's death have also been charged.

In Austin, protests are also being held in the name of Michael Ramos, an unarmed black man who was shot dead by an Austin police officer in April.