“Stand up and Rise Up October and say this has to stop!”
September 21, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
LaToya and Alice Howell—mother and grandmother of 17-year-old Justus who was murdered by Zion, Illinois police—are actively building for Rise Up October. They were among the family members at the powerful August 27 program in Harlem that challenged people broadly to come to NYC October 24. Alice is a member of the Rise Up October Steering Committee. Revolution recently interviewed these two fighters against police terror.
Revolution: So let’s dive in. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. And I’m going to have a number of questions. First, just to give you a preview: I’m going to ask you about Justus Howell and what happened to him; I’m going to ask you a little bit about when you came to New York for August 27 and why you’ve been involved in this, what you’ve felt about that; and then a little bit looking towards Rise Up October. So that’s the scope of what I’m hoping we’ll talk about. Does that sound good?
LaToya Howell: OK. Sounds good.
Revolution: Either one of you—Alice or LaToya—why don’t you start by telling us about Justus—who he was, what he was like, and then what happened to him.
LaToya Howell: Well, Justus… he loved music. He was a high school student. He had planned on becoming a surgeon after college. And basically, he was my heart. His birthday had been coming up on June 18—it was a couple of months away from the day he was killed. And basically he just wanted to go to school, go to college and become a surgeon. And he was very popular for his music, as well, out here. Seventeen years old—they took his dreams away.
Revolution: Alice, do you want to add anything?
Alice Howell: I’m Justus Howell’s grandma. And along with that, Justus was an affectionate person. He cared about people, whether adult or his peer. He cared about people. And for his life to be stolen at a young age, not only the family was hurt and heartbroken, but all his friends and peers and schoolmates—we see them today and they’re still heartbroken. It was his unjust murder that prompted us to be a part of Rise Up October.
Revolution: What do you think the message is sent when Justus was murdered by the police? What do you think the impact and the message of that was on his friends and other young Black men and women, as well as family?
LaToya Howell: The main message that is sent to all of the youth out here and all around him was that you can’t trust the police. And they were supposed to be here to protect and serve and I believe that they just went off. And they’ve been lying to us our whole entire lives. To be afraid of them—that’s the main thing—like they want to send a message that, you know, if we don’t bow down to them then we can be killed. And I just feel like a major issue came about where we’re angry at the police for not being qualified, or for them not having any compassion of any sort. By them not being indicted or charged with anything, that also stirs up a certain kind of hate, you know what I mean? I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s real.
Revolution: And my understanding was that Justus was running and he was shot two times in the back. He was unarmed. Is that correct?
LaToya Howell: Correct.
Revolution: Alice, a minute ago you said this is what prompted you to get involved in Rise Up October.
Alice Howell: Yes, we all sit back and we see this happening around the world: 854-plus police killings of people of color, young peoples. And it’s an epidemic. I say my grandson was executed. He was executed, and I say that. And for the system in Lake County [Illinois] to justify that killing and to cover it all up—that was unjust for us too. So that’s why we have to fight this system. We have to say: this is not OK, this has to stop. And it won’t stop until we stand up as a people, nationally. Stand up and Rise Up October and say this has to stop. Enough is enough! You know, they try to counteract what we’re doing with their police killing. A police gets shot—they have national [media] coming around doing this to distract us from our cause. No! You killed 854 people here—do the math. So something has to be done. This has to stop! And I say that over and over again.
Revolution: Both of you traveled out to New York on August 27 to be a part of the big event with Carl Dix and Cornel West and other families of police murder victims at the First Corinthian Baptist Church. LaToya, do you want to say how it felt to be part of that? What you thought of the event? The impact that that had on you and that you think it had on others to see people come together in that way?
LaToya Howell: Yeah, I mean it basically brought the sense of realness there, like right up front and personal. They got a glimpse into each one of our lives and let it be known that we were robbed, you know, we were robbed of our children. And it’s not right. And that you must stand for something or, as I say, fall for anything. If we don’t stand together as a people the same thing will continue to happen and more of us will lose our children, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers to this. This is an epidemic. And I think that was a big part of this movement by going to New York, because it reached out to people that had no idea that it’s happening as much in their own communities. You know what I mean, I think it was an eye-opener. And it reached a good amount of people, and I think that if we continue to have these kinds of meetings, gatherings, that we can start to change things out here and around the world.
Revolution: Alice, you mentioned that people need to stand up nationally, and I know that since you were in New York, you have been very busy, both of you, organizing and going out to people to bring them to New York City for Rise Up October. Why don’t you say why you’re doing that and some of the stories—who you’ve taken this out to, what your experience is.
Alice Howell: OK, I was there in New York to support my daughter. Being the grandparent of a stolen life, I just had to be there. I had to be with the other families to let the other families know that we feel your pain and for this organization to stand up and say: We are with you, we know what’s going on, we’re gonna fight for you. And it was such a powerful, emotional presentation that was given there in New York. And that just sparked my fire. We have to go back and let these people know what’s going on, what we can to do help. Let’s stand together. Let’s get out there and fight for justice for our kids. Because we never know which one will be next.
That also prompted me to come back to my community to let them know because, again... and I know it’s sad... but my community is so asleep on what’s happening. They’re scared to stand up. I have been running into conflict of interest because of government programs and what have you. But I need to let the families know it’s okay to stand up. I know we’re hurt and we’re pained and that sparked a fire for me to get out there and get justice. We still have the hashtag #JusticeforJustusHowell. We have web pages. We’re talking to families to reel them on in. Let’s go stand for our children that their life has been taken by law enforcement. It is so important to do something. And that helps alleviate some of the pain for me.
Like I said this once before, early on, I would go to my grave fighting for justice—not just for my grandson, Justus Howell, but for all the other victims of police killings and brutality. And that’s why I’m a part of this. That’s why I’m working daily on trying to get people there, to get somebody out there for us that can help us, that can fight this. You don’t have to deal with it alone.
Revolution: Who have you taken this to? Because I think it would be helpful for people to hear. I know you got mixed reactions, but you took it a lot of places.
Alice Howell: I’ve taken it a lot of places. I’ve taken it to the college. I want to get students involved. I’ve taken it to the faith community. I have Reverend Jerome McCorry working with me with the faith communities in my area. I’ve taken it to our township supervisors. I’m meeting with the township of Zion on Monday: you guys gotta do something that helps. But we find out most times, again, conflict of interest. But on a personal level: are you gonna help us? We want to get these families to New York so we can stand and face this issue of police brutality and killing. So I’ve taken it several places. I’m just stretching out. I’ve gathered some families who have just totally shut down after their case was settled and their loved one murdered by police and they think that’s it. They don’t want no more parts of anything, they just want to grieve. And that’s fine, if that’s what they want to do. You have these families who feel that their loved one’s life was stolen through an unjust system and there was no justice served. So that’s why we continue to fight. That’s why I continue to fight. But, we have three families that we’re taking from our area and we’re raising funds to also get them to New York for Rise Up October.
Revolution: LaToya, you made a very powerful statement in New York when you spoke, and you did the same... I’ve seen you on video in a number of places. And you tell people it’s not enough to just put the “like” on Facebook or offer their sympathies. Why do you say that?
LaToya Howell: Well, I say that because a lot of people just think, especially in the social media and the youth being so driven off the social media, I think that they think they’re doing something by sharing links and pressing the “like” button. But it’s not. It needs to be a household conversation every single day, because whether they like it or not, this could be their position. They could live this reality every single day. They could lose someone very dear to their heart. And if we don’t stand up for that and do something about it instead of just staring at the screens, nothing will change. Nothing ever changes by looking on your computer screen. Things change by you going out and making it change. You have to change it. You have to force this change.