Blog from Justus Howell shooting protest: 'They gunned down my son'
A demonstration in Waukegan is breaking up, with some protesters leaving and others breaking into small groups.
The hourlong protest against a decision not to file charges in the police shooting of 17-year-old Justus Howell of Zion has been peaceful.
At one point, some of about 40 demonstrators stood in front of a city bus near the Waukegan Public Library at County and Clayton streets, blocking its progress. Passengers got off the bus, and after police and Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley talked to leaders of the group, the demonstrators moved away from the bus.
Inside and outside the Salem Meat & Grocery store in Zion, where police began the pursuit of Howell before the April 4 shooting, it is like any other day. Store workers said there are no plans to close early and children getting out of school are milling 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."
A church group is gathering to sing in front of the store.
Demonstrators in Waukegan are continuing to walk peacefully on streets near the Lake County Courthouse downtown as police keep traffic out of the area.
Meanwhile, a church group is expected to sing at the Zion grocery store that was the site of the April 4 confrontation that led police officer Eric Hill to shoot 17-year-old Justus Howell at 24th Street and Galilee Avenue in Zion.
Authorities say the teenager had stolen a handgun before the shooting and was running away with it when police arrived. Howell was shot twice in the back.
Demonstrators are stopping traffic on Sheridan Road in Waukegan to protest the decision by Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim not to file charges in the police shooting of Justus Howell in Zion.
LaToya Howell, mother of the 17-year-old, is leading about 40 protesters as some are sitting on Sheridan Road. Police cars are blocking traffic on several streets in the area.
Nerheim said Thursday that Justus Howell, who was black, was turning toward police with a gun in his right hand during a foot chase April 4 when he was hit by two bullets fired by veteran officer Eric Hill, who is white, at 24th Street and Galilee Avenue in Zion.
Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley told protesters he agrees with the results of the investigation that the shooting was justified. One of the demonstrators yelled, "What if your child was gunned down?"
The demonstration is peaceful. The marchers are blowing whistles and holding signs, including a large black banner reading "Murdered By Police."
About 40 people gathered around the mother of Justus Howell and now are beginning to march near the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan with signs reading "Stop police murder" and "Justice for Justus." Some marchers who are white carry signs reading "White silence is violence."
"They gunned my son down. One of my worst fears was confirmed when I heard there would be no justice," an emotional LaToya Howell said of the announcement Thursday by Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim that the shooting of her 17-year-old son in Zion was justified. LaToya Howell invoked the names of black celebrities, calling for their support.
Justus Howell's grandmother, Alice Howell, also spoke to the group. A drone is circling overhead.
As the protest is unfolding, people who have business at the courthouse are dismayed that it closed at 1 p.m. because of the planned march.
Paul Peterson of Elmhurst arrived at about 3 p.m. but could not get into the building. "Why should they shut down anything?" he said. "I don't care if there's 2 million people here. Why should everybody else pay?"
Several couples hoping to be married, including two brides in wedding dresses, also were turned away.
Several people, one with a megaphone, are standing outside the Lake County Courthouse, chanting, "No Justus, no peace" in reference to Justus Howell, who was shot by a Zion police officer in April.
Meanwhile, all is quiet and calm at the corner in Zion where 17-year-old Howell was shot and killed by Zion police Officer Eric Hill.
Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim announced Thursday the shooting was justified and released video of the shooting.
The Zion business where the foot chase began that ended Howell's life is open and employees said they plan to stay open.
Two disappointed couples so far are the only people joining news reporters outside the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, where authorities were expecting a 3 p.m. demonstration over a decision not to prosecute a Zion police officer for the fatal shooting of Waukegan teenager Justus Howell in April.
The couples, including two brides in wedding dresses, had planned to be married at the courthouse, but it closed early in anticipate of the protest.
Businesses in the neighborhood appear to be operating as usual.
Lake County authorities will close the Lake County Courthouse and Administrative Complex at the corner of Washington and County streets in downtown Waukegan at 1 p.m. Friday to give way to a planned protest Friday afternoon.
To ensure the safety and security of Lake County employees, courthouse visitors, and the general public, the decision was made to close all offices at this downtown campus, officials said in a news release Friday.
Lake County Administrator Barry Burton said several groups from Chicago have announced they will demonstrate in front of the Lake County building at 3 p.m. over a decision to not prosecute a Zion officer for the fatal shooting of a Waukegan teenager in the back during a foot chase in April.
Burton said its unknown how many people are planning to attend the demonstration Friday.
"Through social media, there are several groups who said they intend to come to the protest today," he said. "In order to ensure employees are not hindered by their peaceful protest, we decided it was in the best interest to close the building early."
Lake County Undersheriff Ray Rose said there is a cooperative plan in place with the Waukegan Police Department to ensure the protest will remain peaceful Friday.
"The closure was designed to allow the demonstrators to have a secure environment to exercise their freedom of speech and not interfere with county business," Rose said. "Based on our history with the protesters, we anticipate this will be a peaceful demonstration."
The protest is after Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim announced Thursday that Officer Eric Hill was justified in shooting 17- year-old Justus Howell during a foot chase that ended at 24th and Galilee Avenue April 4.
Nerheim said Howell met up with Tramond Peet, 18, of Lindenhurst at a local grocery store in Zion for a gun purchase. The two left the grocery store and walked to a nearby alley to make the sale, he said, where a scuffle ensued over the weapon.
During the scuffle, Howell pointed the gun at Peet and threatened to shoot Peet, Nerheim said. The gun discharged, Nerheim said, and one of five separate witnesses who heard the gun shot phoned police.
Officers arrived within two minutes and observed Howell fleeing the scene with a gun in his right hand, Nerheim said. Hill chased Howell across several yards while other officers began appearing on the scene.
In the front yard of a home on the 2300 block of Galilee, Nerheim said, Hill saw Howell lean forward and turn slightly to the right with the gun in his hand. He also said Howell refused repeated commands to drop the weapon during the pursuit.
Hill not only feared for his life, Nerheim said, but feared for the life of another officer Howell was running at. Hill fired two shots at Howell, Nerheim said, and hit him in the back.
Nerheim said an exhaustive investigation by the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force under the supervision by the FBI showed the shooting corroborated Hill's account. The loaded handgun Howell was carrying was located within a foot of Howell's his head, and a forensic examination found his thumb print and DNA on the weapon, he said.
In addition, Nerheim said the Illinois State Police Crime Lab confirmed late Thursday afternoon gunshot residue was recovered on Howell's hands, said George Filenko, commander of the major crimes task force.
Also, Nerheim said bullet trajectory recreations showed Howell was bent over and turning when he was shot.
• Daily Herald staff writers Lee Filas, Melissa Silverberg and Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.
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