A white, former Marine was badly beaten and possibly left with brain damage by a crowd of racial epithet-yelling African Americans at an all night restaurant near West Point, Mississippi apparently in retaliation for the shooting of Missouri teen Michael Brown. Police are hastening to avoid calling the attack a “hate crime.”
Ralph Weems IV, 32, a former Marine who served in Iraq, is now in a medical coma but listed in fair condition at a Tupelo hospital. He may have brain damage from the attack, doctors say.
The altercation began when Weems and his friend David Knighten went to eat an early morning meal at a Waffle House in West Point, Mississippi, a small town south of Tupelo in the northern part of the state.
Knighten says that they were told by a black patron that white people weren’t safe in the area because locals were still riled up about the shooting of black teen Michael Brown that occurred two weeks ago in Ferguson, Missouri.
The pair went into the establishment anyway, and soon got into a verbal argument with seven black customers. Knighten and Weems left after police were called to the scene and before any fighting broke out.
Knighten and Weems then drove to a nearby Huddle House restaurant but they were apparently followed by a large group of blacks.
After coming out of the bathroom, Knighten says he found a large group of locals surrounding his friend. They were all arguing. It all turned physical in short order and Weems was beaten down quickly by overwhelming odds. Knighten says he was unable to reach Weems to help.
Knighten took severe injuries, but Weems was left on the floor kicked into unconsciousness. Knighten says that the crowd was hurling “racial slurs” at them during the attack.
“All my injuries were minor fractures and lacerations,” Knighten told the Clarion-Ledger. “I just wish I could have reached him sooner. Please keep your thoughts and prayers on Ralph.”
West Point police, however, are quick to deny that this is a “hate crime.”
“This does not appear to be a hate crime,” Police Chief Tim Brinkley said in a statement.
“We are investigating this as an aggravated assault. It’s very early in this investigation but thus far the evidence and statements suggest that a verbal altercation turned physical and somebody got hurt,” the Chief said.
Thus far one man, 22-year-old Courtez McMillian of Okolona, Mississippi, has been arrested for the assault.
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