U.S. Marshals Service agents fatally shot a young black man in Memphis, Tenn., during an attempted arrest, triggering overnight clashes with protesters that left three dozen police officers injured, officials said on Thursday.
The man, identified as Brandon Webber, in his early 20s, was wanted on aggravated assault and armed robbery charges related to a June 3 shooting in Hernando, Miss., DeSoto County district attorney John Champion said.
Authorities in Mississippi said Webber was suspected of having shot a man five times point blank and leaving him for dead after going for a test drive of a car the victim was offering for sale. A second suspect in the shooting remains at large.
Members of a federal fugitive task force shot Webber while seeking him out on “multiple felony warrants” stemming from the incident in Mississippi. Webber was shot in “response to a threat posed by the subject,” the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement.
The young man rammed his vehicle into those driven by the agents at about 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the working-class Memphis neighbourhood of Frayser, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Webber was carrying an unspecified weapon when he got out of his vehicle, the bureau said.
‘He wasn’t a bad guy’
Webber was the eldest of eight children, said his father, Sonny Webber. He had two young children of his own — a two-year-old boy and a newborn daughter, and was expecting a second daughter soon.
“He wasn’t a bad guy,” his father told Reuters in a brief telephone interview. “He wasn’t even living long enough to be a bad guy.”
Shortly before being shot, Webber posted a live video on Facebook that showed him in a car, rapping and apparently smoking a marijuana joint. 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.”
As news of the death spread, an angry crowd estimated at about 300 people gathered in the streets. Some threw rocks and spat at the police, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement.
Memphis police and Shelby County sheriff’s deputies were called in to help contain the crowd as word of the shooting spread on social media. Police strapped on protective riot gear and tried to control the crowd by spraying tear gas, according to officials and media reports. Officers also patrolled the area on horseback, while police cars with flashing blue lights lined the streets and a helicopter flew overhead.
Video footage of the protests showed one man bashing a police car with a chair. The mayor said “multiple police cars” were vandalized.
The Memphis Police Department said on Thursday that 36 officers, including deputies from the Shelby Country Sheriff’s Office, suffered minor injuries because bricks and rocks were thrown at them. Several officers were hospitalized, but they have since been released, the police force said.
Two journalists were also injured. It was not clear how many protesters or bystanders were hurt. Three people were 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, Mo., in 2014, gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Memphis Police director Michael Rallings told WREG-TV Thursday evening that officers’ days off have been cancelled in the wake of the protests and they will ride in two-person cars. Rallings said police will allow peaceful protests but won’t allow threats or attacks on police officers, looting or property damage.
Leslie Earhart, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, declined to provide further information about the shooting while the investigation was ongoing, including 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.
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, and since November has lived in the Frayser neighbourhood, a mostly low- to middle-income area north of downtown.
Anderson said she worries about her son’s safety every day in Memphis which, like other large cities, struggles with violent crime.
“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.”