By , ADRIAN SAINZ
Published June 13, 2019
Police appealed for calm in a tense Memphis neighborhood Thursday where about 35 officers were injured by a rock-throwing crowd following a black man's shooting death by U.S. marshals on a fugitive task force.
Elected officials condemned the violence, and the police chief pleaded for patience while the shooting is investigated. But unanswered questions left many people angry as they bitterly recalled a litany of police-involved shootings around the country.
Shortly after the task force shot 20-year-old Brandon Webber early Wednesday evening, people began to gather in the area and their numbers swelled as some livestreamed the scene on social media. Memphis police initially responded in street uniforms, then returned in riot gear as people began throwing rocks and bricks.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said about 35 officers were injured, raising the number significantly from the 24 reported earlier. He said six needed hospital treatment.
During the nighttime unrest, officers cordoned off several blocks in the Frayser neighborhood north of downtown and arrested three people. By 11 p.m., officers had used tear gas and most of the crowd dispersed, police director Michael Rallings said.
The police director implored residents to wait until the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, or TBI, finishes its investigation. He appealed for people to refrain from violence and from spreading possible misinformation about the shooting.
"I need everyone to stay calm," Rallings said.
After Webber was shot as marshals were trying to arrest him Wednesday evening, Strickland said, protesters threw rocks and spit on police, injuring officers who responded.
Separately, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said through a spokesman that the shooting would be fulling investigated. Lee's press secretary, Laine Arnold, also said in a statement that the crowd's actions "are not representative of the community but we stand firmly against acts of lawlessness that threaten the safety of our neighborhoods."
On Thursday morning, officers on horseback patrolled, and lines of police cars with flashing blue lights were parked along the street and a helicopter flew overhead.
Webber's home is in a residential area of the working-class neighborhood of north Memphis. By Thursday afternoon, the police presence was minimal, with two police cars parked in front of a nearby fire station. No uniformed officers were visible.
About 20 people stood outside of Webber's one-story house, and others gathered nearby. One woman wept loudly and hugged a man as she cried.
The Rev. Andre E. Johnson said he was standing among the protesters when tear gas was released Wednesday night. He said he heard no police order to disperse.
"All of a sudden, tear gas came out, and of course, people then began to disperse," Johnson said, adding his eyes and throat stung.
Johnson said people are upset because they still do not know why the marshals sought to arrest Webber, calling him a beloved member of the community.
"The problem with it is they feel that police and the administration and city officials do not treat them as humans," Johnson said. "That's what it really boils down to: You are not worthy of an explanation."
Spokeswoman Keli McAlister at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said the Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force went to a Frayser home to look for a suspect with felony warrants. She said marshals spotted the man getting into a vehicle and it then proceed to ram task force vehicles several times before he got out with a weapon.
Marshals then opened fire, killing the man, she said. McAlister did not say how many marshals fired or how many times the man was shot. The TBI identified the dead man as Webber.
Authorities provided no details about the charges that prompted the task force's interest in him. A criminal history for him released by the TBI lists two arrests, in April 2017 and April 2018, on charges including weapons possession, drug dealing, and driving without a proper license. Court records show the 2018 charges were not prosecuted and the 2017 charges were dismissed.
His father, Sonny Webber, told The Associated Press by phone that his son leaves a 2-year-old boy and a young daughter, with another daughter on the way: "He would have had three children. Now he'll have a child that he won't get to meet."
The TBI is routinely called in to investigate police-involved shootings around the state. TBI investigators typically delivers a report to the local district attorney, who then decides whether to pursue charges against officers involved.
At least two journalists were injured Wednesday evening, police cars were damaged, a fire station's windows were shattered and a concrete wall outside a business was torn down, he said.
The mayor, Strickland, expressed pride in the city's 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," the mayor tweeted.
Memphis area police shootings in the past four years have prompted sporadic protests.
Among them, Darrius Stewart, an unarmed 19-year-old, was fatally shot during a fight in 2015 with Connor Schilling, a white officer who was trying to arrest him on outstanding warrants. A Shelby County district attorney recommended Schilling be charged with voluntary manslaughter, but a grand jury refused to indict.
Associated Press reporters Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee, and Rebecca Yonker in Louisville, Kentucky, and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.