Memphis school leaders said Thursday they would provide grief counselors to students in summer programs after U.S. Marshals shot and killed a young black male who was a 2017 graduate of Central High School.
Brandon Webber was killed Wednesday night in his Frayser neighborhood during an altercation with law enforcement. Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said the warrants against Webber were for “violent felony offenses, from an incident that occurred June 3, 2019” in Mississippi, according to Memphis television station WREG.
A statement from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said officers were trying to stop Webber when he allegedly rammed his vehicle into theirs multiple times before exiting with a weapon. “The officers fired striking and killing the individual,” the statement said.
Protests broke out nearby, sending at least six police officers to the hospital with injuries, said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. The public response to the shooting, which is drawing national attention, included a small gathering of students Thursday at Central.
Shelby County Schools released a statement from Central Principal Greg McCullough, who described Webber as a hard-working student during his time at the school, one of the oldest and largest in Memphis.
“My heart is broken over the news regarding the death of Brandon Webber,” 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. My prayers go out to the Webber family during this devastating time.”
The fatal shooting of Webber, a black male remembered as a promising student leader but who also was being sought for alleged involvement in an earlier shooting, occurred in a city with a history of racial strife, and amid national conversations about the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials against African American men.
His violent death at age 20 was not what his classmates and teachers expected or hoped for when Webber was a student at Central and leader with Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit organization that uses history and current events to teach students about leadership.
Chalkbeat spoke with Webber in 2016 at a summer program for high school students. Then 17, he said participating in Central’s student leadership group helped him find his own voice. He went on to help lead the group.
“I was a bit of a slacker, but a teacher saw potential in me and pushed me to join because she could see my potential,” Webber said at the time. “I started thinking a lot more about who I am as a person and how I can advocate for things I believe in within my community.”
Ema Wagner, a graduate of White Station High School, worked with Webber during their sophomore and junior years in Facing History and Ourselves. She remembers him as a passionate participant.
“He was really special in how he could talk to anyone,” she said. “What we’re seeing here now is that several different diverse communities across Memphis are devastated, because he had so many connections and reached across so many lines to make friends.”
Anticipating a crowd at Central Thursday, district officials dispatched extra security to the school, where about 20 people, including some of Webber’s former classmates, gathered briefly.
“Our priority is to ensure our school is secured and students and staff feel safe,” the district’s statement said.
School is out for the summer, but many schools house summer school and other programs in the off months. District officials said grief counselors are available to those students if needed.
Community trauma can have an effect on student learning. Researchers found that students near Ferguson, Missouri, experienced declines in achievement and attendance in the period after an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by police there in 2014. That shooting also spurred protests against police brutality, first locally and then across the country.
The protests after Webber’s death reflected not just anger about the shooting but frustration that on Wednesday the local district attorney had declined to press charges against a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man during an arrest last year, according to Tami Sawyer, a Shelby County commissioner and mayoral candidate.
Sawyer tweeted early Thursday that “people are hurting” and noted that she had attended a gathering in Frayser to show support for that community. She said that Stephanie Love, a school board member, had spoken at the event.
“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?”
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