Armed officers and an angry crowd faced off after a black man was fatally shot in a confrontation with U.S. marshals in a working-class Memphis neighborhood.
People in the crowd threw rocks and bricks, with 25 officers suffering mostly minor injuries during the tense clash Wednesday night in the Frayser community in north Memphis. Officers cordoned off several blocks near the scene. By 11 p.m., officers had used tear gas and most of the crowd dispersed, police director Michael Rallings said at a Thursday morning at a news conference. Three people were arrested.
Officers on horseback patrolled the area, and lines of police cars with flashing blue lights were parked along the street. An ambulance could be seen at the outer edge of the scene. A helicopter flew overhead as police cars trickled away. Streets were blocked and the police presence remained heavy Thursday. Tensions between police and black activists have been high in recent years in Memphis following several police-involved shootings.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Keli McAlister said the Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force went to a Frayser home to look for a suspect with felony warrants. Marshals saw the man get into a vehicle and then proceed to ram task force vehicles several times before exiting with a weapon, McAlister said. Marshals then opened fire, killing the man who died at the scene. McAlister did not say how many marshals fired or how many times the man was shot.
The TBI identified the dead man on Thursday as 20-year-old Brandon Webber.
Shelby County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Tami Sawyer tweeted that he had been shot several times in his family’s front yard.
“Every life lost should matter…every single one. How many times will this be ok? It cannot continue to be,” she wrote.
Memphis police officers were called in to help with crowd control as word of the shooting spread on social media. As more protesters showed up, more Memphis officers and Shelby County sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene. The situation then escalated, and officers donned protective riot gear as people threw rocks and bricks. Police cars and a nearby fire station were damaged, Rallings said.
The TBI is called in to investigate police-involved shootings by district attorneys in Shelby and other counties in the state. TBI investigators then give their report to the district attorney, who will decide whether to pursue charges against officers involved.
The police director implored residents to wait until the TBI finishes its investigation before spreading possible misinformation about the shooting. “I need everyone to stay calm,” Rallings said.
While police support the right of people to demonstrate, Rallings said “we will not allow any acts of violence.”
A statement from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland expressing pride in the city’s first responders says six of the injured officers had to be treated at a hospital.
“I’m impressed by their professionalism and incredible restraint as they endured concrete rocks being thrown at them and people spitting at them,” the mayor tweeted.
At least two journalists were injured, multiple police cars were damaged, a fire station’s windows were shattered and a concrete wall outside a business was torn down, he said.
In 2016, police shootings of black men prompted protesters to block the Interstate 40 bridge connecting Tennessee to Arkansas. Activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement also have sued the police department, claiming officers illegally surveilled them.
In 2015, Darrius Stewart, an unarmed 19-year-old, was fatally shot during a fight with Connor Schilling, a white officer who was trying to arrest him on outstanding warrants. Shelby County district attorney Amy Weirich recommended Schilling be charged with voluntary manslaughter, but a grand jury refused to indict.
In 2018, Martavious Banks was shot and critically wounded by police while running from a traffic stop. Activists and relatives of Banks protested, claiming the shooting was unlawful and accusing police of an attempted cover up.
Passion Anderson, a 34-year-old student, drove her 13-year-old son to the scene early Thursday, after protesters had gone and the scene had calmed down. She grew up in Memphis, but left to Ohio before moving in November to the Frayser neighborhood, a mostly low- to middle-income area north of downtown.
Anderson said she worries about her son’s safety every day.
“I just want him to see this, know what’s going on, to be conscious,” she said from the driver’s seat of her car, with her son in the passenger seat. “I fear for him all the time.”