Thursday, June 27, 2019

Q&A: Brandon Webber's Friends Never Saw Him As A Criminal

Posted By on Thu, Jun 27, 2019 at 12:34 PM

click to enlarge Tamara Smith (left) and Ceyara Smith (right) were friends with Brandon Webber. - TOBY SELLS
  • Toby Sells
  • Tamara Smith (left) and Ceyara Smith (right) were friends with Brandon Webber.

As Brandon Webber’s name fades from headlines, two of his friends say they still want answers and painted a portrait of the man this week as a uniter, a comforting friend, and an advocate against racism.

Webber was shot and killed by U.S. Marshals during an attempted arrest more than two weeks ago in Frayser. Marshals were acting on a warrant from an incident in Hernando, Mississippi, earlier this month, in which Webber allegedly shot a man five times and stole his car. Officials said they fired on Webber as he produced a weapon.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is currently reviewing the shooting.

Since that shooting, Webber was humanized in online memorials and statements from those who knew him. Those memorials showed Webber as a good student, a father, an artist, and more. Many of those memorials, though, have faded, too.

But those memorials were a shift in the now-familiar rhythm of the aftermath of officer-involved shootings. Rather than villainize the alleged perpetrator, efforts were quickly made to paint a more-complete picture of the accused.

click to enlarge TWITTER
  • Twitter

Ceyara Smith called the Flyer office late last week. She said she wasn’t sure exactly what she could do but she wanted to do something, to get her side of Webber’s story out there. Earlier this week, she brought her sister, Tamara Smith, to our offices for a conversation that delved deeper into Webber’s life.

The Smith sisters said they’d known Webber since middle school, hung out at events after school, and would often dream together about their lives in adulthood.

They said if he did shoot someone and was a criminal, they want to know. It’ll be easier, they said, to mourn his life that way. More than anything, they said, they want those answers.

Memphis Flyer: I guess we can start back at the beginning. How did y'all know Brandon?

Ceyara Smith: Well, we actually met Brandon in a middle school, actually as we were enrolling into Snowden (School). We just kind of automatically linked and we've been friends ever since, even as we transitioned into high school. He had a personal, kind-of-close relationship with my best friend. So, we started creating memories outside of school and we were just very, very close.

MF: What kind of guy was he?

CS: Brandon was a type of guy, he was always honest. He was always happy and he just always kept everyone happy around him. He was always the type of person who wanted to help wherever he could.

He always wants to change as well, which is why, like I said, Brandon and I were in [Facing History and Ourselves] together. We wanted change.

Concept art of the Facing History and Ourselves building on South Main. - FACING HISTORY AND OURSELVES
  • Facing History and Ourselves
  • Concept art of the Facing History and Ourselves building on South Main.

What kind of change?

Tamara Smith: Brandon was always trying to persuade the other guys to come to tutoring, or “let's come to basketball practice, and sign up for track.”

Brandon was also very nurturing. If he saw that you needed to be informed about something or he saw that you were slacking on something, Brandon would always come and tell you, “Next time just, you know, just watch what you say and do it a little better.”
Brandon was so honest. He was always very helpful to everybody. He was always there for everybody. He wanted everybody to do good. He wanted you to know that anytime you ever needed anything, you could go to Brandon.

CS: He was very comforting.

MF: Did y’all stay close in high school?

CS: Yes, definitely. Even even after we made the transition to high school, and it was a bigger school, and we were around more people, we always still made plans to at least get together after school. We were always at events together.

TS: We were seeing each other outside of school still the same amount like in our [middle school] days.

MF: What were y’all doing when you were hanging out?

CS: We attended all the basketball games together and football games. Brandon and I, we went on a lot of field trips with Facing History. So, we did a lot of that together.

We also just talked about how we wanted our adulthood to be and what did we want to do when we got out of high school and stuff like that.

click to enlarge TWITTER
  • Twitter

I remember during our senior year, when we started talking about college, Brandon and I both wanted to go to [the University of Tennessee - Knoxville]. I remember when it came time for us to start taking the ACT, we were both, like, “oh my god, we don't know how we're going to do this.”

Then, Brandon did an awesome job. He made a 25 on the ACT, and they actually put his [score] on the wall. They put his picture and his name on the wall along with all the other kids who made good grades.

They also had another wall where they had Brandon and all those other really smart kids listed with all of the scholarships, the offers, and all of the schools they were reaching out to. Yes, Brandon was really smart.
MF: But people saw another side of Brandon, too, the one from the Facebook video he made that day where it looked like he was smoking cannabis and saying about police, “You’re going to have to catch me, homie.” Was there that side of him, too?

MS: If I'm being honest, that side of Brandon always kind of surprised me. I just never saw him as that type of person.

But, nevertheless, Brandon was always an honorable young man. He always was smart. He always knew what he had to do to take care of himself and his family because he did have three kids.

I don't see him as a bad person. I don't see him as a drug dealer or anything like that because Brandon was always so smart. You know, he always did what he needed to do. He was always helpful, always courageous, always on the scene. He was always where he needed to be.

The school — Central High School or Snowden— never had to search for Brandon. He never was skipping. Brandon never smelled like marijuana. He never drank a day in his life.

click to enlarge Tamara Smith (left) and Ceyara Smith (right) were friends with Brandon Webber. - TOBY SELLS
  • Toby Sells
  • Tamara Smith (left) and Ceyara Smith (right) were friends with Brandon Webber.

What do y'all think when your friend, Brandon, is now kind of part of this citywide — almost nationwide — conversation about [police shootings] and you’re hearing some of the stuff that people are saying?

MS: I’m going to be honest, sir. It hurts so bad. When someone close to you is being made an example, in a society that we live in, there is nothing you can do about it. You just live day by day.

CS: I would rather for him to, you know, die doing something positive. I hate the way that he died. I hate that it all happened, because I feel like there's nothing that he could have said or done to cause [law enforcement officials] to shoot him 16 to 20 times and to break his neck.
MS: And to cause such a chaotic scene. I don’t feel like it was that crucial.

CS: Yes, I feel like it was uncalled for. It was very unnecessary. We all know that one bullet can disable someone. So, why did y'all have to shoot him that many times? And, like I said, I don't care what he did. I just don't feel like any of that was called for.

I want the truth. If that’s what he did, tell us. It'll be easier for us to mourn him and rest knowing the truth, whether he did it or not. I want the truth.

MF: That process could take about a year. What do you think about that timeline?

CS: That's fine with me. I’ll do whatever I have to do. I'm ready. I'm up for it.

click to enlarge Brandon Webber - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Brandon Webber

Me, too, because deep down inside, I know the type of person Brandon was. I’m a tough person. It kind of hurts, but I'm strong enough to stand and believe in Brandon myself to not let that diminish my perspective.

MF: Maybe we can get back to what y'all said earlier. You said he wanted change. Maybe you can tell me more about what kind of change he was looking for.

CS: Like I said, Brandon and I were in Facing History together. Brandon and I always hated the differences between the races. That was the first thing, starting with Martin Luther King, you know, I have a dream. Brandon and I used to always talk about that changing.
MS: You have two types of men in the world. You have men who will pick up a gun first and the men who will try to persuade you to put the gun down. Brandon was the type of man that was trying to bring all of us together to love each other.

CS: He would have put the gun down, pretty much. Brandon, he was he was that type of person. He was.

MF: I think we kind of covered everything that we talked about. Is there anything else out there that we didn't get to? Did we leave anything out or is there anything else you want to say?

MS: I just have one thing to say: I love you so much, Brandon. And it really does hurt. But we will get justice, and there will be peace. Your kids will be taken care of. We just love you and that’s it.

CS: Just rest in peace Brandon. We got it from here.

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