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Memphis erupts after shooting of Black man: Is it a sign of more to come for the city?

By Donna Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jun 19, 2019 - 8:39:25 AM

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Protesters take to the streets of the Frayser community in anger against the shooting of youth, Brandon Webber, by U.S. Marshals earlier in the evening, June 12, in Memphis, Tenn. Dozens of protesters clashed with law enforcement, throwing stones and tree limbs until authorities broke up the angry crowd with tear gas. (r) Brandon Webber

MEMPHIS—The Frayer community reached a boiling point after the shooting death of Brandon Webber, 20, at the hands of U.S. Marshals and the handling of the community by the Memphis Police Department, during the aftermath.

The distrust, frustration and anger with law enforcement fueled the scene as many Memphians were still reeling over the recent decision by Atty. Amy Weirich to not charge officers in the shooting of Martavious Banks in 2018. Memphis police officers violated MPD policy by chasing Mr. Banks after a traffic stop, did not notify dispatch, and violated use of radio communications by using only car-to-car radios and turning off their body cams.

In less than 24 hours, the hashtag #BrandonWebber began trending in Memphis with over 7,000 tweets.

Mr. Webber was allegedly being apprehended by a division of the U.S. Marshalls known as the Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force, which operates in Mississippi and Alabama, after a warrant had been served for his arrest. The task force, while mainly composed of U.S. Marshals, also includes members of the Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Sherriff’s Office and the Department of Corrections. The crime Mr. Webber was accused of occurred in Hernando, Miss.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation website, which is investigating the shooting at the request of Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, Mr. Webber was allegedly getting into his vehicle outside of a home in the area and reportedly rammed his car into the officers’ cars multiple times and then exited with a weapon. While initial reports did not indicate that Mr. Webber actually attempted to use the weapon against the officers, the agents fired upon him.  Family members, in an interview with the Daily Memphian, said that as many as 20 shots were fired at Mr. Webber, killing him.

In 2019 alone, the TBI has received requests to investigate 22 officer-involved shootings in Tennessee, 17 of which have resulted in fatalities and 4 of which occurred in Memphis and the surrounding areas. Mr. Webber makes the 23rd shooting.

Over the course of the evening June 12, as crowds began to gather, demanding answers, the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sherriff’s were called to the scene. Local activists and politicians took to Facebook Live to show the events as they were unfolding and to allow expression of community outrage to come through unfiltered.

According to activist Hunter Demster, there were approximately 100 police officers assembled in full riot gear and over 30 police cars on the scene. At a certain point in his recording, viewers could see the police line advancing 20 paces at a time while chanting.

As tensions rose and questions went unanswered, some in the crowd began to throw rocks and other objects at the police, resulting in mostly minor injuries to some officers, who were protected by riot gear. Soon thereafter, the police fired tear gas upon the crowd.

Shelby County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Tami Sawyer, via her Facebook page, acknowledged she did not have all the facts at the time. But she observed, while there were families in pain “we immediately went to riot gear. We went immediately to shutting down a neighborhood. We went immediately to arresting people and then we went to tear gas. I was told to go home because I’m a County Commissioner. People tried to interview me. Folks say I just try to get on the news. I declined every interview. But what I want you to know is that this has to change in Memphis; this has to be an issue that we address. If our police and our community don’t have a relationship, we’re not going to get anywhere in this city.”

“Don’t judge 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? Every life lost should matter … every single one. I was in Frayser tonight because Brandon Webber was shot 16-20 times in his family’s front yard on the same day as the Pulse nightclub shooting anniversary and on the same day that the DA chose not to charge another police offer for murdering a civilian. How many times will this be okay? It cannot continue to be,” Commissioner Sawyer wrote.

Keedran Franklin, an activist known by many as “TNT,” told The Final Call that upon his arrival on the scene, he contacted Police Chief Mike Rallings to find out if he was coming down to the scene to deal with it. He shared that while Shelby County Sherriff’s told officers to “hold the line,” it was the Memphis Police Department that pressed the button to advance and fire tear gas on the community. “Those folks shot that canister and someone actually picked it up and chunked it back at them. Threw it back at them and then they got to running,” Mr. Franklin said. “There was no riot. They’re just trying to use that to justify, but there was no riot. No full out riot. They’re going to end up having one. There’s going to be one, but it wasn’t one last night. But there’s going to be one,” he warned.

According to Mr. Franklin, after the police had been on the scene for approximately an hour, they began putting on riot gear and moving people around. “When I walked up, it was rocks going past. I was like, ‘yeah, they mad out here,’ and righteously so. There were so many shots fired, they expected him to be shot like 16 times. That’s overkill.” Mr. Webber’s body was still in the area hours later.

Many also took to Facebook and Twitter to express outrage at Mayor Jim Strickland’s Twitter response in which he did not mention Mr. Webber by name, nor in a subsequent televised interview. Instead, he  praised the police force. “As I monitored tonight’s fatal shooting involving U.S. Marshall’s, I was proud of our 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 wrote, adding, “Let me be clear—the aggression shown towards our officers and deputies tonight was unwarranted.” The Twitter message fails to acknowledge the use of tear gas on citizens.

As the story continues to unfold, a different picture has begun to emerge of Mr. Webber, with comments coming in from his teachers at Central High School and his peers. “The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan teaches us to follow the principle in the Holy Qur’an which says that if an unrighteous person brings you news, to look carefully into it lest you harm someone in ignorance and later be sorry for what you did. We should allow the facts to come out. The description that is given of this young man does not line up with what I’m being told concerning him. I’m told that this young man was a University of Memphis college student,” said Student Minister Anthony Muhammad of the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque No. 55.