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San Antonio Students Rally For Former Classmate Critically Injured By Austin Police During Protest

More than 100 people gathered at William Howard Taft High School on Thursday to call for justice for Justin Howell, a 2018 graduate of the Communications Arts magnet school housed at Taft.

Howell was critically injured by Austin police on May 31 during a protest outside police headquarters. According to his brother, Joshua Howell, the “less-lethal” bean bag ammunition police fired at Justin fractured his skull, causing brain damage. His recovery is expected to be slow.

“I'm just here to kind of support him along with everyone else and show that this is not okay. It's not going to be accepted,” said Emely Lopez, who graduated from Communication Arts a year after Justin. “We don't want our police force to be violent against our citizens and try to kill them for something that they have the right to do: their right to assembly.”

The rally was organized by current Communications Arts High School students as a space for youth to speak out and protest against anti-Black racism and police violence. It started by passing around a microphone.

Mikael Davis-Leach, 16, read a poem she wrote in memory of her cousin, Daryl Blair, who was killed by San Antonio police in 2013.

“I know I'm not able to be as influential in this area because I am a minor,” Mikael said. “So, in whatever way I can, I don't want to just have Twitter fingers and talk about it. I want to be here and I want to fight as much as I can.”

“This is bigger than just Black people. And this is bigger than just Hispanic people … this is really plaguing our system, plaguing our cities,” Mikael said. “I know you're going to see my skin color first, but all the negative connotations that come with it — I think those need to be shed because that's definitely not who I am and that's not who my Black brothers and sisters are.”

Mikael’s grandfather, Herschel Davis, who is a 74-year-old Marine Corps veteran, encouraged the crowd of mostly teens and younger adults to up the momentum in the weeks to come.

“I’ve seen so much abuse in my life that I’m really proud to see you reacting the way that you do,” Davis said. “Let this be a lifetime thing because this is your lifetime. This is not your lifetime that you’re living for. This is your grandkids, your kids.”

After passing the mic to share stories, the crowd marched along the sidewalk of Culebra for a mile and a half, adding “Justin Howell” to the refrain of chants.

Current and former Communications Arts High School students were joined by family and activists at the rally, including three friends who met at protests downtown.

“It's important that we just show up here. And part of that is educating and learning and talking and hearing people's stories,” said Justin Wong, who was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base before enrolling at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Wong said a big part of the role he sees for himself is speaking up to people in his sphere of influence.

“My family holds onto very traditional types of thinking. And it's not their fault, right? That's just how they were raised,” Wong said. “But we do need to have a conversation about race and implicit bias.”

“There are a lot of problems in this system, starting with the police. And I feel like nobody deserves the disrespect and the way that the police takes away people's dignities,” said Ariella Macias, who met Wong at a previous protest and attends both UTSA and the Alamo Colleges. “It doesn't feel right to just stay at home and do nothing.”

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille.

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