A rural Mississippi man suffered life-threatening injuries and required brain surgery after, his friend said, he entered a Waffle House despite receiving a warning not to enter the restaurant because of the color of his skin.
The severe beating occurred early Sunday morning around 2 a.m., reports The Clarion-Ledger. Up to 20 assailants participated.
The injured man is Ralph Weems IV, a veteran of the Iraq War and a Marine. He is white.
The altercation began at about 1 a.m. when Weems and the friend, David Knighten, chose to go inside the Waffle House. Knighten said they made this decision after a man in the parking lot diplomatically suggested that they should leave because the patrons inside were angry about the Aug. 9 police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Thus, the unidentified man explained, the restaurant would not be a safe place for two white people. (RELATED: Twenty-Four Hours In A Small, Highly Televised Riot)
According to Knighten, Weems, 32, began arguing with customers not long after he entered the Waffle House. It’s not clear what was said or what was in dispute. After the police eventually showed up, Weems and Knighten left.
On the way home, the pair decided to stop at a Huddle House — a similar, less iconic eatery that dots the South. The Huddle House was in West Point. Miss.
A group of people followed Weems and Knighten to the mostly empty Huddle House parking lot. A security guard told everyone to leave. However, Weems and Knighten found that some of the men had blocked their way.
Witnesses described the attackers as black but otherwise could not identify them.
Knighten, an Air Force veteran who fought in the war in Afghanistan, said he attempted to calm the hostilities, to no avail.
The people who came for Weems attacked him. He ended up on the ground, getting brutally kicked.
Knighten also suffered several injuries as he tried but failed to help his friend.
“All my injuries were minor fractures and lacerations,” he explained on Facebook, according to The Clarion-Ledger. “I just wish I could have reached him sooner. Please keep your thoughts and prayers on Ralph.”
Knighten added: “I do remember racial slurs being yelled from the crowd.”
Police failed to arrive on the scene until the crowd had dispersed.
“This does not appear to be a hate crime,” local police chief Tim Brinkley said, according to The Times-Picayune. “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.” (RELATED: Sunday Night Brings More Looting And Destruction To Ferguson; National Guard On Its Way)
For now, the incident is under investigation as an aggravated assault.
“It’s not clear whether or not all of the parties were involved in both incidents,” Brinkley also noted.
On Monday, police arrested 22-year-old Courtez McMillian in connection with the conflict. Police say other arrests are pending based on witness accounts and video footage captured in the Huddle House parking lot.
Weems is currently listed in fair condition at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.
Bradley Barnes, who is related to Weems, said Weems is currently in a post-brain surgery coma induced by doctors.
“They’re going to try and wake him up tomorrow and see what damage was done,” Bradley said, according to The Times-Picayune.