Small but angry protest against Justus Howell decision in Waukegan
There weren't thousands of people on the streets of downtown Waukegan on Friday afternoon, but the dozens who were there, including the family of Justus Howell, wanted their message spread loud and clear.
"This isn't over. We need justice for Justus," said LaToya Howell, mother of the 17-year-old who was shot by Zion police last month in an incident that was ruled a justifiable homicide Thursday by the Lake County state's attorney.
Fears that more than 2,000 people would descend on Waukegan to protest the decision led officials to close county government offices early on Friday, but what materialized was a small and peaceful but emotional march of fewer than 50 people who wanted to be heard.
Marching through the streets chanting "black lives matter," "no justice, no peace" and other common refrains of protesters after racially charged shootings around the country in recent months, those demonstrating for Howell on Friday said they were sick of the violence.
"We need to advocate for our youth because if we don't do it, these injustices will continue to happen. It has to stop today. It has to stop now. We need to stand up for our rights," LaToya Howell said through tears into a megaphone for the crowd. "One of my worst fears was confirmed when they said there would be no justice for gunning down my son."
On Thursday, Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said Justus Howell was turned toward police with a gun in his right hand during a footchase April 4 at 24th Street and Galilee Avenue in Zion. Howell, who is black, was then hit by two bullets fired by veteran officer Eric Hill, who is white.
A video of the shooting released on Thursday, and posted at dailyherald.com, does not make it readily apparent that Howell is turned toward the officer, and the investigation showed that the teen was shot twice in the back.
LaToya said she saw the video but didn't know it would be released to the public. She said she didn't see him turn around and that her son was not a threat.
"I saw an injustice taking place. I saw them murder my son," she said.
Police generally stayed out of the protesters' way on Friday afternoon, blocking off streets for them and redirecting traffic around the group as it circled downtown Waukegan.
At one point the group stopped a Pace bus and refused to move. Riders got off and eventually the bus was able to turn around and take another route.
Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley met the group at various points throughout the afternoon and asked them to stay safe.
Motley, a former police officer, said he agreed with the results of the investigation.
"They did a thorough investigation and I'm pleased with the results," he said. "They are angry because they don't like the outcome and they have the right to protest. But the truth has come out now."
Marchers who came from Chicago and several suburbs disagreed.
"The systems are broken," said Anita Hanna of Waukegan. "This is just a symptom of everything else going on in America."
Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon in Zion, all was calm and quiet and at the corner where Howell was shot.
Inside and outside the Salem Meat & Grocery store where police began the pursuit of Howell, it was like any other day. Store workers said there were no plans to close early and children getting out of school milled about outside.
Jennifer Stokes was shopping at her neighborhood store with her two daughters, "hopeful" that there would be no violence.
"I don't want it to be like Baltimore," she said. "It should be peaceful."
Clyde McLemore said some people are angry in the town where he is an elected precinct committeeman and community activist.
"We've been talking peace for 20 years and it falls on deaf ears," he said. "They're getting ready to put Eric Hill back to work and what happens now is we'll have another dead kid."
Organizers of a massive three-day German shepherd show at Zion's Shiloh Park featuring 320 European-bred dogs said they were aware of the local strife but never considered canceling or moving the event. They said police had been by repeatedly on Friday afternoon.
Zion police declined to comment on whether they would be stepping up police presence throughout the weekend.
The smaller-than-expected protest caused a few problems for people who had business at Lake County's government offices, which closed at 1 p.m. as a precaution.
Waldo Medina and Carla Fernandez of Milwaukee had traveled to the courthouse to get married on Friday afternoon, but they were turned away.
"It's pretty disappointing, but I guess we have no other option," Medina said.
Another couple, with the bride in a wedding dress and the groom in a military uniform, was also turned away.
Paul Peterson of Elmhurst was upset he couldn't get into the building to get some records he needed.
"Why should they shut down anything?" he asked. "I don't care if there's 2 million people here; why should everybody else pay?"
As the protest in Waukegan was winding down around 5 p.m., organizers asked the group to stay active.
"Whatever you do, you need to stay involved," said Waukegan activist Chris "Brotha" Blanks.
Motley said he understood that people were angry and wanted to protest, but he was glad the afternoon turned out quieter and safer than riots that have hit Baltimore or Ferguson, Missouri, in the past year.
"As long as no one gets hurt out here, we're OK," he said.
• Daily Herald staff writers Bob Susnjara and Jake Griffin contributed to this report.
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