Critics question `less lethal’ force used during Texas protests

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This this photo provided by Howell family shows Justin Howel. When a participant at a rally in Austin to protest police brutality threw a rock at a line of officers in the Texas capital, officers responded by firing beanbag rounds ammunition that law enforcement deems less lethal than bullets. A beanbag cracked Howell's skull and, according to his family, damaged his brain. Adding to the pain, police admit the Texas State University student wasn't the intended target. (David Frost via AP)

(AP) – When a participant at a rally in Austin to protest police brutality threw a rock at a line of officers in the Texas capital, officers responded by firing beanbag rounds — ammunition that law enforcement deems “less lethal” than bullets.

A beanbag cracked 20-year-old Justin Howell's skull and, according to his family, damaged his brain. Adding to the pain, police admit the Texas State University student wasn't the intended target.

Protesters took to the streets in Austin and across the nation following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In some instances, police reacted with force so extreme that while their intent may not be to kill, the effects were devastating.

Pressure has mounted for a change in police tactics since Howell was injured. He was not accused of any crime. He was hospitalized in critical condition on May 31 and was discharged Wednesday to a long-term rehabilitation facility for intensive neurological, physical and occupational therapy. His brother has questioned why no one is talking about police use of less lethal but still dangerous munitions.

“If we only talk about policing in terms of policies and processes or the weapons that police use when someone dies or when they are ‘properly lethal’ and not less lethal, we’re missing a big portion of the conversation,” said Josh Howell, a computer science graduate student at Texas A&M University.

The Austin Police Department said in a news release that, before June 1, its officers used Def-Tec 12-gauge beanbag munitions on protesters. According to the manufacturer’s website, they have a velocity of 184 mph (296 kph)

The growing use of less lethal weapons is “cause for grave concern” and may sometimes violate international law, said Agnes Callamard, director of Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University and a U.N. adviser.

From 1990 to 2014, projectiles caused 53 deaths and 300 permanent disabilities among 1,984 serious injuries recorded by medical workers in over a dozen countries, according to Rohini Haar, an emergency room doctor in Oakland, California, and primary author of the 2016 Physicians for Human Rights report.