A crowd of protesters, some of them throwing rocks, squared off against police in riot gear in Memphis, Tennessee, overnight after officers from the U.S. Marshals Service fatally shot a black man during an attempted arrest, officials said on Thursday.
At least two dozen police officers and two journalists were injured during the confrontation, Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement, adding that six officers were taken to the hospital. The injuries were mostly minor, the police department said, and the crowd eventually dispersed. It was not clear how many civilians were hurt or whether anyone was 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, Missouri, in 2014, gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Memphis, agents with the U.S. Marshals Service shot a man identified as Brandon Webber as they were trying to arrest him on multiple warrants at about 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the working-class neighborhood of Frayser, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which is probing the shooting.
Webber rammed his vehicle into vehicles driven by the marshals before getting out with an unspecified weapon, the bureau said in a statement. The Marshals Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, arrests fugitives, among other roles.
The state investigations bureau did not state the reason marshals wanted to arrest Webber.
Webber was a 20-year-old father, and his Facebook page quickly filled with tributes from friends mourning his death.
“The U.S. Marshals killed my son,” Sonny Webber, the father of Brandon Webber, said in a brief telephone interview. “He just had his first daughter a couple of weeks ago, and another daughter on the way.”
The younger Webber was also the father of a two-year-old son, and had planned to attend the University the Memphis in August, his father said.
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, the mayor said in his statement. Police strapped on protective riot gear and tried to control the crowd by spraying chemicals, according to officials and media reports. Video footage of the protests showed one man bashing a police car with a chair.
“The rain is the only reason the tear gas tonight didn’t permeate the entire neighborhood,” Tami Sawyer, an elected member of the board of county commissioners, wrote in a series of Twitter posts after leaving the scene. “I still can’t believe that move was made.”
She said many in the crowd were enraged by the belief that the man had been shot by U.S. Marshals more than a dozen times.
The U.S. Marshals Service said it would release a statement later on Thursday.
Mayor Strickland chastised the protesters in his statement. “Let me be clear,” he wrote, “the aggression shown towards our officers and deputies tonight was unwarranted.”