Memphis police clash with protesters after killing of 20-year-old black man

VIDEO: REUTERS

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (REUTERS) - US Marshals Service agents fatally shot a young black man in Memphis, Tennessee, during an attempted arrest, triggering overnight clashes with protesters that left at least two dozen police officers injured, officials said on Thursday (June 13).

The man, identified as 20-year-old Brandon Webber, was wanted on multiple warrants for unspecified violent felony offenses for a June 3 incident in Hernando, a Mississippi city just south of Memphis, according to a statement from District Attorney Amy Weirich of Shelby County, Tennessee.

Webber was shot by members of a federal fugitive task force in “response to a threat posed by the subject,” the Marshals Service said in a statement. 

He rammed his vehicle into vehicles driven by the agents at about 7pm on Wednesday in the working-class neighbourhood of Frayser, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). 

Webber was “reportedly” carrying an weapon when he got out of his vehicle, the bureau said, without elaborating. The later statement by the Marshals Service made no reference to a weapon and a spokesman declined to say whether Webber had one.

Webber was arrested previously for possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia, and driving with an expired or suspended license and an improperly displayed registration plate, public records show. 

It was not immediately clear if he was ever prosecuted.

Shortly before being shot, Webber posted a live video on Facebook that showed him in a car, rapping and apparently smoking marijuana.

In the video, he looked out the window and said he saw police. With a laugh, he looked directly into the camera and said what sounded like the officers would “have to kill me.” 

Webber was the eldest of eight sons, his father, Sonny Webber, said in an interview on Thursday.

He had two young children of his own, a two-year-old boy and a newborn daughter, and was expecting a second daughter soon.

Sonny Webber said his son had sold marijuana but was not a drug dealer.

“He wasn’t a bad guy,” his father said. “He wasn’t even living long enough to be a bad guy.” 

As news of the death spread, an angry crowd estimated at about 300 people gathered, and some threw rocks and spat at the police, Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement. 

Police strapped on protective riot gear and tried to control the crowd by spraying chemicals, according to officials and media reports.

Video footage of the protests showed one man bashing a police car with a chair. The mayor said “multiple police cars” were vandalised.

At least 24 officers and deputies were injured, with six hospitalized, the mayor said. Two journalists also were injured.

The injuries were mostly minor, police said, and the crowd eventually dispersed. It was not clear how many protesters or bystanders were hurt or whether anyone was arrested.

The tense scene raised the possibility of more disturbances in the predominantly black city, evoking memories of a string of sometimes violent protests against police brutality that broke out in other cities in recent years. Those clashes, notably many days of protests after an unarmed black man was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I need everyone to stay calm,” Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings told reporters overnight.

The Marshals Service, an arm of the US Justice Department, arrests fugitives, among other roles. It said the warrants were being executed on behalf of Hernando police.

Weirich said her office will determine after a TBI investigation into the incident whether the US marshals broke any laws in the shooting.

Leslie Earhart, a TBI spokeswoman, declined to identify the type of weapon Webber was reported to have had and whether Webber’s father and neighbours were correct when they said Webber had been shot between 16 and 20 times.

Friends flooded Webber’s Facebook profile with messages of love, grief, disbelief and outrage at the authorities responsible for his death.