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 student leader and 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.
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 said Webber had been 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.”
While at Central, Webber was a 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. He was then 17, and 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 in the program.
“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 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 following the shooting.
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 she had attended a vigil in Frayser to show support for that community, saying that “people are hurting” and noting that a school board member, Stephanie Love, 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?”
This story was originally published on https://www.chalkbeat.org/