A professor at a historically black college in Memphis has come under fire for a post on Facebook in which he called Brandon Webber, the 20-year-old black man who was killed in a fatal police shooting last week, a “fucking idiot” and “dead as Dillinger.”
Professor Tom Graves, of Lemoyne-Owen College, posted about Webber after his June 12 shooting by U.S. Marshals. Authorities have said they were trying to arrest Webber on multiple warrants after he allegedly stole a car and shot at a man in Mississippi. Webber allegedly rammed his car multiple times into police vehicles and then got out holding a weapon.
In response, authorities fired at Webber, killing the father of two.
That night, dozens of law enforcement officers were injured in demonstrations when about 300 people protested the shooting. The Memphis-based Commercial Appeal reported that tensions escalated when residents said they witnessed officers taunting members of the neighborhood and laughing after the shooting.
“Every life lost should matter... every single one. How many times will this be ok?” Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer tweeted that night. “It cannot continue to be.”
Graves, who is white, has since deleted his post, in which he wrote that Webber’s social-media posts made him look like a “king daddy pimp,” but a screenshot was preserved by Fox 13 Memphis.
“The fucking idiot tries to run over the Marshals with his vehicle then exits the car with a gun,” Graves wrote. “Defending this man is wrong. He should be condemned for what he was and represented and did.”
In a statement, Lemoyne-Owen College said that its leadership team was “aware” of the post.
“We're working now to address this matter most sincerely and efficiently,” the college said. “The content of personal posts made by individual staff members do not always reflect the values or official position of our institution, as in this instance. We remain steadfast in our commitment to fostering a safe, inclusive learning environment for our students, as well as our faculty and staff."
On Monday, Graves told the Memphis Flyer that he doesn’t “discuss this stuff with my students—I teach them writing.”
“I love and respect my students,” he continued. “I did not want all this to get so out of hand. Lots of folks black and white agree with my take on the Frayser incident.”
But students at Lemoyne-Owen College told Fox 13 they were bothered by the post, and at least one called for him to leave the school.
“Maybe my teacher is racist,” she told a reporter. “What if I don’t get a good grade because I’m black?”
The student government association at Lemoyne-Owen also reportedly sent a letter to Graves calling his posts “appalling.”
“While we agree that we do not have the facts of the case, we are in unanimous disagreement with your verbiage and disregard for the impact which your words would have on the community you serve,” reads the letter, reported by the Flyer. “As a professor at a historically black college, you are keenly aware of the challenges unique to the black/African-American community.
Graves posted again on June 15, noting that there are people “calling for me to be fired,” including Sawyer, the county commissioner.
“When you disagree with some people, they don't want to see democracy in action, they want your head,” he wrote. “I told those people that I'd be willing to talk to any one of them in private. Do you think anyone has yet taken me up on it. Of course not. They just want to bloviate and call me a racist and an ‘ape’ because our views differ.”
“It does make me sad when some of my former students do the pile-on thing and say bad things about me that they wouldn't have except for this situation,” he added.
“This thing is getting serious.”