News that a U.S. Marshals Service officer had fatally shot a young black man in Memphis triggered chaotic protests late Wednesday that caused widespread property damage and left at least two dozen police officers injured by thrown concrete rocks.
“Let me be clear — the aggression shown towards our officers and deputies tonight was unwarranted,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland (D).
Other local politicians, though, urged patience and demanded a thorough investigation into the killing. “The community wants answers into tonight’s incident,” said state Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D), who also called for “complete transparency in the investigation of tonight’s officer involved shooting.”
The shooting happened around 7 p.m. Wednesday night in Frayser, a neighborhood less than five miles north of downtown Memphis. The man killed, who was identified by family members and local officials as 20-year-old Brandon Webber, was being served multiple felony warrants by the Marshal Service’s Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force and other law enforcement agencies, according to police.
Webber rammed into the marshals’ car with his own car several times and then displayed a weapon, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Keli McAlister, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said in a news conference early Thursday that it was unclear how many marshals had fired at Webber.
“This remains a very fluid situation,” McAlister told The Washington Post.
The bureau said in a statement that it would not name any officers involved in the shooting, and the U.S. Marshals Service said it would not release names until all investigations were over. The Memphis Police Department said none of its officers were involved.
Demetrick Skinner, a cousin of Webber’s, and Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer each said that Webber was shot as many as 20 times before dying in his family’s front yard, according to the Daily Memphian. Yolanda Holmes, his aunt, told the Daily Memphian that the family was trying to confirm what exactly happened.
“This is crazy,” Skinner, his cousin, told the outlet.
Earlier on Wednesday night, a man posted a video to Twitter of him confronting police officers who had formed a barricade in the streets.
“My cousin down there, laying in the street!” the man yelled. “Laying in the yard!”
As night fell and news of the shooting began to spread through Frayser, protests broke out, resulting in a standoff between authorities and hundreds of inflamed residents. On one side, police stood shoulder to shoulder holding riot shields. On the other were angry crowds, shouting at officers. Some protesters hurled bottles, rocks and bricks, police said.
In one instance captured on social media, protesters used a chair to smash out the back window of a police car. Another man appears to spit at officers.
(Warning: Explicit language is used in the videos below.)
Police eventually fired tear gas into the area, which dispersed the crowd. A late-night rainstorm further emptied the streets.
In a statement released early Thursday, Strickland said that at least 24 officers and deputies were injured, with six taken to the hospital for treatment. He added that two journalists were also injured. WREG’s Luke Jones, said he was knocked to the ground after a man ran up and punched him in the head, while Rebecca Butcher of Local 24 News tweeted that her photographer was also hit by someone in the crowd.
Strickland said multiple police cars were also vandalized, a concrete wall outside a business was torn down and windows were broken at a local fire station. The mayor praised first responders.
“I’m impressed by their professionalism and incredible restraint as they endured concrete rocks being thrown at them and people spitting at them,” he said in a Facebook post.
Community and national leaders called for healing and justice. The NAACP said it was “closely monitoring” reports out of Frayser. Sawyer, a Democrat and progressive activist who is running for mayor in the October election, pleaded for the public not to pass judgment on Frayser “without asking a community how it feels to mourn their youth over and over again.”
“What do people do with their pain and trauma when it gets to be too much, when a city has ignored them, when their loss is too great and they can no longer yell at the sky?” she asked.
But sadness and anger served as the overwhelming feelings for community activist Hunter Demster. He told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that Wednesday night’s shooting should serve as another reminder of a broken public safety system.
“Every time I turned around, I saw another person with tears in their eyes, furious at another life lost,” Demster said.
The unrest came a month after a man who was shot and critically injured by a Memphis police officer during a traffic stop last year was indicted on several charges, The Commercial Appeal reported. Week-long protests broke out while 25-year-old Martavious Banks was on life support after the shooting, the Appeal reported.
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