Mixed emotions circulated the Frayser Exchange Club on Thursday as community leaders deviated from their scheduled agenda to focused on the events that had transpired in their community less than 24 hours before. Just blocks away, 20-year-old Brandon Webber was shot and killed by U.S. Marshals, igniting protests from frustrated residents.
“It is not normal for our black boys to be murdered in the street,” Shelby County Schools Board Commissioner Stephanie Love said as she emotionally addressed attendees at the meeting. “Although we don’t know all of the details, I am tired of seeing our black boys killed in the streets and we sit around and act like it’s normal.”
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Webber was wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service on multiple warrants, including a felony warrant out of Hernando, Miss. A prosecutor said Webber shot a man five times when he met the man to buy his car earlier this month. Investigators said while trying to apprehend Webber Wednesday, he “rammed his vehicle into the officers’ vehicle multiple times before exiting with a weapon.”
Memphis police were not involved in the shooting but were called to the area after demonstrations turned violent. Dozens of officers and two journalists were injured as police said some residents hurled bricks and rocks, damaging several police cruisers. Frayser leaders said those acts of violence painted their community in a negative and inaccurate light.
“We are a community that is on the rise,” said DeAndre Brown, executive director of Lifeline to Success. “What you saw last night was not indicative of who we are, and we don’t want that to be the narrative. We are not here to take sides because we don’t have all of the information.”
Love, who was out during the protests, said the ones who caused the most trouble weren’t Frayser community members.
“We were there last night in between the police and the citizens. We saw the agitators who are not from this community who only want to come when they want to cause trouble,” she said before pausing to add, “but we also saw the hurt in children’s eyes because they didn’t understand. We need answers. If Brandon was wrong, we need answers. If the U.S. Marshals were wrong, we need answers.”
Other city leaders and advocates have weighed in on the incident that has garnered national attention. Mayor Jim Strickland offered condolences to the family before denouncing the violence against police that occurred during the protests.
“I grieve for the loss of life. I see this too much, loss of young lives. I grieve for that and grieve for his family. They lost a loved one,” he said. “But let me be clear, the aggression shown towards our officers and deputies was unwarranted.”
Thursday afternoon, the NAACP’s Memphis Branch issued a statement calling for answers from the U.S. Marshal’s Office.
“We are very interested in learning if the agents who shot and killed Mr. Webber were wearing body cameras so that we can ascertain what really happened last night,” the statement read. “We also would like to know if Webber’s felony warrant was issued as a part of the Federal Task Force mandate, and if there was a better way to engage Mr. Webber once he was located.”
For Frayser residents and parents, like Love, Webber’s death hit close to home.
“I stand before you as a black woman and a mother of two black male children to say to you that we must get this right. We don’t know what happened but as a mother of two black male children…our black boys are continuously being gunned downed by their friends and by the police,” she said. “And we can’t just sit back and do nothing.”
As additional details from the shooting continue to surface, those who knew Webber, a father of three, are left to cope with his loss. Webber was a 2017 graduate of Central High School. His former principal, Greg McCullough, released a statement regarding his death.
“My heart is broken over the news regarding the death of Brandon Webber. 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.”
The TBI has not released details on how many times Webber was shot or additional information regarding the weapon they said he possessed at the time of the shooting. As details remain murky and questions are left unanswered, Frayser leaders who gathered Thursday called for residents to refrain from violence.
“We ask that you don’t let people who are not from Frayser incite you to stupidity,” Brown said. “That is not who we are.”