Protesters demand 'Justice for Justus' after black teen fatally shot by Zion police officer

 
 
Updated 4/11/2015 11:00 PM
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  • Community activist Paul McKinley, with a bullhorn, leads the march Saturday protesting the police shooting death of Waukegan teen Justus Howell in Zion.

      Community activist Paul McKinley, with a bullhorn, leads the march Saturday protesting the police shooting death of Waukegan teen Justus Howell in Zion. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Marchers walk down Galilee Street in Zion Saturday protesting the police shooting death of 17-year-old Justus Howell.

      Marchers walk down Galilee Street in Zion Saturday protesting the police shooting death of 17-year-old Justus Howell. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Several hundred people marched peacefully Saturday in Zion, starting from where 17-year-old Justus Howell was fatally shot by a police officer and ending with a boisterous rally at police headquarters where protesters demanded "Justice for Justus."

Crowds kicked off the demonstration by holding hands, forming a circle and joining in prayer at 24th Street and Galilee Avenue, near where the Waukegan teen was fatally shot by a Zion police officer a week ago. Howell was shot twice in the back after he tried to steal a handgun from another teen and then ran from police, authorities have said.

Amid a national debate about excessive police force, organizers aired many of the grievances heard in Ferguson, Missouri, where a black man was fatally shot by a police officer, and in New York, where a black man died after police put him in a chokehold.

In Zion, protesters wore shirts and carried signs reading "Black Lives Matter" and "I Can't Breathe." They marched solemnly, chanting, "No justice, no peace," several blocks until they reached the police station.

There, the teen's family and community activists called for institutional reforms in the wake of the shooting death.

"Today's march is to bring attention to the conditions that led up to this tragedy," said Al Rogers, a family spokesman.

Through a bullhorn, Derell Howell, Justus' uncle, told the gathering his nephew "didn't deserve to die by the hands of no man."

"We're going to be nonviolent because we want results," Howell, also from Waukegan, said.

Crowds were orderly during the rally until they cut off Zion Mayor Lane Harrison, who stressed the findings of a report by the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, which is investigating the shooting death, would be made public.

"You have my word that there is not going to be some kind of cover put over this," Harrison told the group. "There is going to be one thing: Truth. Truth, that's what we're all looking for."

When one protester asked whether police would start wearing body cameras, Harrison said "we do have full support," until crowds interrupted him, chanting again, "No justice, no peace."

The protest came one day after Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim announced the FBI would be monitoring and reviewing the task force's investigation. Nerheim promised a "complete, detailed and fully transparent" investigation.

Rogers praised the move, saying the family is demanding a "fair and impartial investigation into what happened that day."

He also urged the police department, now predominantly white, to hire African-American officers.

"It's a problem with representation," Rogers said. "Our young kids and many of our old residents don't feel comfortable going to the police because there's a complete lack of trust."

The Zion police officer who shot Justus April 4 is a nine-year veteran of the department who has been placed on administrative leave.

Police have said the teen got into a fight with another teen while trying to steal a handgun during a street sale. Tramond Peet, 18, of Lindenhurst, planned to sell the gun to Justus near Gilead Avenue in Zion, authorities have said, but a scuffle between the two broke out and a shot was fired.

A neighbor who heard the gunshot and saw the fighting called police, authorities said. When officers arrived, Justus ran and was later shot after a foot chase. A gun was recovered at the scene, but police haven't said where.

Peet, meanwhile, has been charged with two counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

• Daily Herald staff writer Mick Zawislak contributed to this report

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