Another black man is dead at the hands of police. In the span of just 20 days, America has seen the trajectory of police brutality travel at light speed cloaked by a global uprising of protest. In Minneapolis, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Houston-native was allegedly murdered on May 25 by white police officer Derek Chauvin. Floyd was peacefully lowered into the earth on June 9.
Just three days later when the public felt safe to breathe, Rayshard Brooks was shot to death in Atlanta by white police officer Garrett Rolfe. The 27-year-old’s death literally ignited a fast-food fire when two of three bullets shot, were pumped into Brook’s back. He was intoxicated and during his encounter with police, resisted being handcuffed and fled the scene of a pending arrest. In the unfortunate company of Floyd, Brooks is now dead. Black men dying at the hands of police occurs again and again while the narrative grows tirelessly familiar. The common denominator is the unreasonable outcome of nonviolent crimes like ‘sleeping while drunk’ or ‘passing a counterfeit bill.’
In the aftermath, law enforcement officers are terminated. Less than swift, they are charged with homicide. A Black community that is moreover systemically shortchanged by racism awaits justice, and this Father’s Day, children Brooks and Floyd claimed their own have been robbed of an opportunity to extend one Hallmark card.
How does a birthday party for an eight-year-old daughter end with bullets lodged in a black man’s back followed by a call to abstain from pursuing violent protests?
“Not only are we hurt, we are angry,” Chassidy Evans, Brooks’ niece told Associated Press reporters. “…We’re not only pleading for justice. We’re pleading for change.”
In the following Associated Press special report by Lisa Marie Pane, questions linger. What Happened?: Could the police shooting in Atlanta have been prevented? It’s being hotly debated by law enforcement experts and others. The main question: Could officers have done something to avoid using deadly force? Could they have let him walk home rather than arrest him?
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced Monday, June 15 that she was ordering changes to police use-of-force policies, including requiring that officers receive continuous training in how to deescalate situations and use those techniques before taking action that could be fatal. She said she also was requiring officers to intervene if they see a colleague using excessive force.
The mayor said that after Brooks’ shooting, it was clear Atlanta did not have “another day, another minute, another hour to waste” in changing police practices.
Other cities nationwide are taking similar steps, and packages of police reforms have been proposed or are emerging in Congress.
About 20 of Brooks’ children, siblings, cousins and other family members sobbed at a news conference as over 1,000 people gathered not far away at an NAACP-led protest outside the Georgia Capitol.
A family’s despair
Police were called to a Wendy’s restaurant over complaints of a car blocking the drive-thru lane. An officer found Brooks asleep in the car.
Police video showed Brooks cooperating with the officers for more than 40 minutes until a breath test determined his blood-alcohol level was over the legal limit. When one of the officers moved to handcuff him, Brooks tried to run and the officers took him to the ground.
Brooks broke free and took off with a stun gun but was shot. Rolfe told authorities that Brooks fired the stun gun at him.
Asked why Brooks ran, family attorney L. Chris Stewart suggested that he may have feared for his life.
“They put George Floyd in handcuffs and he was subsequently killed,” Stewart said. “So just getting put in handcuffs if you’re African American doesn’t mean, oh, you’re going to get nicely taken to the back of a police car.”
Evans said there was no reason for her uncle “to be shot and killed like trash in the street for falling asleep in a drive-thru.”
“Rayshard has a family who loves him who would have gladly come and got him so he would be here with us today,” she said.
Relatives described Brooks as a loving father of three daughters and a stepson who had a bright smile and a big heart and loved to dance. His oldest daughter learned her father was slain while celebrating her eighth birthday with cupcakes and friends, wearing a special dress as she waited for Brooks to take her skating, said Justin Miller, an attorney for the family.
“There’s no justice that can ever make me feel happy about what’s been done,” said Tomika Miller, Brooks’ widow. “I can never get my husband back. … I can never tell my daughter he’s coming to take you skating or for swimming lessons.”
She asked those demonstrating to “keep the protesting peaceful,” saying: “We want to keep his name positive and great.”
Reform amid GOP push-back
Several Democratic lawmakers joined protesters and called for Georgia to pass reforms including the repeal of the state’s citizen’s arrest and stand-your-ground laws.
While some Republican leaders pushed back against swift action on some proposals, GOP House Speaker David Ralston endorsed rapid passage of a hate-crimes law, telling lawmakers that failure to act would be “a stain on this state we can never wash away.”
Morgan Dudley, 18, skipped work to join the demonstration after her job kept her from joining protests following Floyd’s death three weeks ago.
“I was like, ‘You know what? This is not a trend. This is an actual problem that we’re facing,’” said Dudley, who is black.
Nationwide response – New York to Alburquerque
Officials nationwide are responding to calls for reform while protests persist. The New York City Police Department is disbanding the type of plainclothes anti-crime units that were involved in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner and have long been criticized for aggressive tactics, Commissioner Dermot Shea said Monday.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a panel of residents, activists and one police official will review the Police Department’s policy on when officers can use force. Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mayor Tim Keller said he wants a new department of social workers and civilian professionals to provide another option when someone calls 911.
And New Jersey’s attorney general ordered police to begin divulging names of officers who commit serious disciplinary violations.
In Congress, Republicans are on the brink of introducing a bill with restrictions on police chokeholds and other practices, while a Democratic proposal would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force encounters and ban chokeholds. The White House will announce its own executive actions Tuesday.
As mentioned, in the Atlanta shooting, ex-officer Rolfe, who fired the shots that killed Brooks, was fired, and another officer at the scene, Devin Brosnan, was put on desk duty. Police Chief Erika Shields resigned.
Police released the officers’ disciplinary histories, which showed Rolfe received a written reprimand in 2017 for use of force with a firearm but provided no other details. Rolfe, who was hired in October 2013, also got a written reprimand in 2018 and an oral admonishment in 2014, both for vehicle crashes. A firearm discharge case from 2015 listed no conclusion.
Brosnan was hired last June and had no disciplinary history.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he hopes to decide by midweek whether to charge the officers. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the investigation.
Associated Press contributed to this report.
Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and B.A. in Journalism from Temple University.