A police officer was fired, a new chief was at the helm, and a Wendy’s restaurant burned Sunday as the city became the latest epicenter in the urgent, nationwide demand for social change.
Rayshard Brooks, 27, was shot outside the Wendy’s late Friday. Brooks, who is Black, had fallen asleep in his car in the drive-thru. He failed a sobriety test and was being handcuffed when he struggled. Two white officers tackled him, video from the scene shows. He appeared to wrestle a Taser from one of the officers and was fleeing when he was shot.
The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Brooks’ death as a homicide, according to a press release on Sunday night.
“Mr. Brooks had two gunshot wounds of his back that created organ injuries and blood loss,” the release said.
Scores of demonstrators turned out Saturday to protest the shooting, and protesters continued to rally on Sunday across the city.
The state NAACP called for a protest for 9 a.m. Monday.
“In light of the continued violence against our communities, we will lead the people to the Georgia State Capitol,” the NAACP said in a statement. “We march not just in solidarity, but for EVERY Georgia victim of police brutality, racial terrorism, violence and voter suppression.”
Reactions to the shooting centered around the belief that the incident did not call for deadly force. Within hours of the shooting, Police Chief Erika Shields stepped down from her post. On Sunday, the department announced that officer Garrett Rolfe, a seven-year veteran of the force, was fired. Officer Devin Brosnan, on the force for less than two years, was placed on administrative duty.
Radcliff Angus, who is Black and lives in Atlanta, said Sunday that he was “numb” when he first heard about the Brooks’ killing. He said he became frustrated when he brought himself to watch the video.
“All levels of police know this is an extremely volatile time,” said Angus, 42. “Bringing more force than necessary will result in this type of situation. There are other models of policing that do not require the most severe physical response.”
Jalyn Wells, a Black woman who lives in Atlanta, said people in the community here have a right to be angry over Brooks’ death.
“Rayshard’s death added more fuel to the literal and physical fires that we’ve recently seen in this country and around the world,” said Wells, 22. “Just as we are asking for justice for those who were senselessly murdered before him, Rayshard’s death has and should continue to spur the same desire. His life mattered.”
Attorney L. Chris Stewart, who represents Brooks’ family, said training had failed. Two officers should have been able to control one man without shooting him, Stewart said. He wants the officer who shot Brooks charged with murder.
“A Taser is not a deadly weapon, it’s not like he was running off with a gun,” he said. The officer’s “life was not in immediate harm when he fired that shot, it just was not.”
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the House majority whip, said he was incensed by the shooting, especially coming after weeks of protests demanding racial justice and an end to police brutality.
“This did not call for lethal force, and I don’t know what’s in the culture that would make this guy do that,” Clyburn said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It’s got to be the culture, it’s got to be the system.”
Hours before police shot him, Brooks, a father of four, had enjoyed spending the day with his daughter for her 8th birthday. The party was supposed to roll into the next day with a skating celebration.
Family attorney Justin Miller said Brooks took his daughter to get her nails done and something to eat on Friday. On Saturday she put on a special dress for the second round of the big occasion, awaiting her dad.
“She had her birthday dress on because she was waiting for her dad to come pick her up to take her to go skating,” Miller said. “While we were over there they had a birthday party for her 8th birthday today with cupcakes … while we were sitting there talking with her mom about why her dad’s not coming home.”
Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said she grieves with the Brooks family – and with the community in Atlanta already reeling from the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many other victims of systemic racism in America.
Arbery was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, in February when he was fatally shot by men who said they suspected him of break-ins. Taylor was shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers on March 13. Floyd died May 25th after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for almost 9 minutes.
“Police officers continue to deny due process by acting with impunity as judge, jury, and executioner of unarmed Black citizens,” Young said.
Former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said Brooks’ killing shows the need for severe restrictions in use of deadly force. She also called for an investigation – and accountability.
“Sleeping in a drive-thru must not end in death,” she said.
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