Iraq veteran Ralph Weems is in fair condition this morning at North Mississippi Medical Center. Over the weekend, the Marine and a friend named David Knighten (who is also a vet) were violently beaten by a group of up to 20 people in the parking lot of a Huddle House. According to family, Weems spent most of Sunday and Monday in a medically induced coma following brain surgery.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, David Knighten was preparing to meet his friend, Ralph Weems, for a late night bite at a local Waffle House. On his way inside, Knighten claims another customer waved him over and politely explained that the Waffle House wasn't "a safe place for whites." The people in the local community, the customer explained, were still upset about the shooting death of Ferguson, Missouri teen Michael Brown. As a result of those feelings of injustice, the customer warned that it was best for Knighten and his friend to stay away. Upon entering the building, Knighten found Weems already in the middle of an argument with some patrons. Eventually, the police were called and the crowd was told to disperse.
After the fact, one of the Waffle House employees claimed "a man was creating a disturbance and upsetting the other patrons." At this point, police are unclear as to whether this was Weems or another customer. (Seems like it'd be easy enough to figure out, though, if the racial demographics were as skewed as the polite customer claims they were). At any rate, Weems and Knighten decided to return to Weems' house. On the way, they stopped at a Huddle House, apparently so Knighten could use the restroom.
On his way out of the restroom, Knighten found Weems surrounded by a large group of black men. Apparently, a sizeable crowd had followed the pair after they were sent home from the Waffle House. As Knighten approached the group, a security guard emerged from the Huddle House to tell the crowd to head home. It was around this point, according to Knighten, that he was separated from his friend. Weems was brought to the ground and kicked repeatedly in the head and body. Knighten himself was also attacked; he suffered broken bones in his face, a cut over his left eye and a blood clot in his right eye.
Weems, though, got the worst of it. As Knighten wrote on Facebook Saturday after the incident, "All my injuries were minor fractures and lacerations. I just wish I could have reached him sooner. Please keep your thoughts and prayers on Ralph."
Police have already arrested one suspect in the beating, 22-year-old Courtez McMillian of Okolona. More arrests are expected to follow as police examiner security footage and chase down information provided by witnesses. Police Chief Tim Brinkley explained that the assault was not being treated as a hate crime. That decision, he says, is up to the grand jury. "All we do is process the evidence and turn the case over to the District Attorney who in turn presents it to the Grand Jury. It's within their discretion to add the hate crime enhancement."
Given the public outrage surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown, it's mildly surprising that this is the first crime to be linked to people's rage surrounding the incident. That said, authorities seem very hesitant to make that connection as they argue (rightly) that no firm judgements can be made until a motive is uncovered. Though it's obvious no one deserves a beating as savage as the one given to Ralph Weems, there's no evidence at this point to suggest that the crime was racially motivated, save for the conspicuous warning of a polite customer.