What started as a protest over the death of a Memphis man devolved into chaos after demonstrators threw bricks at police and vandalized squad cars, officials said.
At least 25 officers and deputies were injured in the melee Wednesday night, police said. Mayor Jim Strickland said six officers were taken to a hospital.
The turmoil came after US marshals shot and killed a man Wednesday night in the north Memphis neighborhood of Frayser, officials said.
Marshals were trying to stop 20-year-old Brandon Webber, who was wanted on multiple warrants, outside a home as Webber was getting into a vehicle, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said.
Webber “reportedly rammed his vehicle into the officers’ vehicles multiple times before exiting with a weapon,” the bureau said. “The officers fired striking and killing the individual. No officers were injured.”
News of Webber’s death spread quickly as protesters hurled rocks at police, tore down a concrete wall outside a business and smashed the windows of squad cars and a fire station.
In addition to wounded officers, two journalists were also injured, the mayor said.
Protesters unleash anger toward a different agency
“For some reason, they turned their anger toward the Memphis Police Department.”
The police director and mayor lauded Memphis officers for keeping their composure despite coming under attack.
“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 said.
The police director also praised the protesters who remained peaceful or tried to quell the violence.
“I know that there are many individuals in the crowd that tried to assist in keeping everyone calm,” Rallings said.
‘The neighborhood is victimized’
Residents aired their grievances in Memphis’ Frayser neighborhood after news broke of another black man killed by law enforcement.
According to the US Census Bureau, the ZIP code that includes most of Frayser is about 80% black, and more than four in 10 residents live below the poverty line.
Webber was a 2017 graduate of Central High School, which said it was deploying extra security and grief counselors across the school district.
“My heart is broken over the news regarding the death of Brandon Webber,” Central principal Greg McCullough said. “I remember that he was a very talented art student. He seemed to really love his experience at Central High and he engaged well with others.”
Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer tweeted that she went to Frayser shortly after the shooting because “this is my district. I went because I stand with my people. People are hurting.”
“Don’t judge Frayser without asking a community how it feels to mourn their youth over and over again,” Sawyer tweeted. “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?”
But Rallings, who is black, said the police department welcomes peaceful protests. It’s when demonstrations turn violent that protesters end up hurting their own community, he said.
“When these (acts) of violence happen in a neighborhood, the neighborhood is victimized,” Rallings said.
“My message tonight is we should all wait and make sure that we know what exactly happened before we spread misinformation, or we jump to conclusions. … We know there’s a lot (of rumors) out there, and often individuals do not have the facts. And I think that’s dangerous.”