A Black college student is currently in critical condition after a weaponized police force injured him during a Sunday night protest in Austin.
According to BuzzFeed News, Justin Howell was shot in the head with bean bag rounds by a cop, say family members.
The 20-year-old, who’s a student at Texas State University, suffered a “fractured skull” and “he has brain damage,” due to the incident, according to his brother. He’s now sedated at a hospital.
“Doctors anticipate that when he wakes up, he will have difficulty telling his left from his right,” said his brother Joshua Howell in the Battalion, the Texas A&M University publication.
Clips of the scene show cops shooting at volunteer paramedics and protestors carrying Howell’s limp body to get medical attention.
Volunteer protest paramedic Maredith Michael uploaded photos to Facebook of her bruised hands. She said her injuries occurred because the police were shooting her with bean bags as she tried to clear the crowd to allow Howell’s body to be carried to safety.
“I had my hands in the air, I begged for them to help, they said ‘bring him over here’,” wrote Michael. “I told them that his head injury was too severe, he was convulsing and unable to move, that I needed their help. ‘You’re going to need to bring him here.'”
She said the cops still continued to shoot at them:
“Several guys started to carry him, I was clearing the path, with my hands up (crossed wrists, our signal that I was volunteering for the medical tent across the street). 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.”
“Just so you know, I had been there 2 full days. With one of my firefighter shirts on that I sewed a huge red and white medical cross on the front and back of. I had red and white crosses taped on my helmet. They knew I was a medic. I begged them to help the young man, I begged them to help me… But they just continued to fire these ‘less lethal’ bean bags into the crowd. They told me to back off, they told me to move the fuck away.”
Howell’s brother, Joshua, slammed the cops for their incompetence and thanked the folks who helped carry his brother to safety.
“It’s unclear whether the officers who shot at the protesters were the same ones who gave them the order to approach,” he explained in the Battalion. “But at minimum, it takes a special kind of incompetence to fire at those who are doing as the police tell them. At minimum, it shows a complete inability to be aware of your surroundings and to manage the situation appropriately.”
Another person, 16-year-old Brad Ayala, was shot by police on Saturday night by bean bag ammunition, which cops consider to be “less lethal” despite life-threatening injuries.
“He’s conscious and in a lot of pain because he was shot right in the middle of his forehead,” Valarie Sanchez, Ayala’s sister, explained to the Statesman. “The bullet stayed inside of his head for five hours. The front of his head is fractured and dented and he had some bleeding.”
The police tried to apologize on Monday, arguing Howell wasn’t their intended target. “That is not what we set out to do as a police department,” Austin police Chief Brian Manley said. “That was not what we set out to do this weekend.”
According to San Marcos Daily Record, Manley said police video shows Howell, who was standing near ADP Headquarters, standing near a man who threw a water bottle and backpack toward the cops around 11 p.m. on Sunday. He further said that an officer fired his “less lethal” munition at the man who threw the bottle and backpack, however, Howell was hit instead. Manley acknowledged that when people tried to bring Howell to safety, “they were fired upon with ‘less-lethal’ munitions as they brought this victim toward the officers to get him medical help.” He said the situation is still “currently under review.”
Howell’s brother didn’t accept the police’s response, saying the cops needed to be accountable for the violence they enacted.
“These ‘less-lethal’ munitions are only ‘less-lethal’ by technicality,” he wrote. “My brother’s condition shows what can happen when you fire them into a crowd.”
A GoFundMe page has been started to support Howell’s family.