Local activists and an attorney for the family of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer Friday night, are calling for the officer to be arrested and charged along with demanding “radical” reforms to policing in Georgia’s capital city.
The Atlanta Police Department (APD) fired the officer who killed Brooks—Garrett Rolfe, who was hired in October 2013—police spokesperson Carlos Campos told CNN. A second officer—Devin Bronsan, who was hired in September 2018—was placed on administrative duty.
Following pressure from local civil rights advocates in the wake of the shooting, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced Saturday afternoon that Police Chief Erika Shields had resigned. The Georgia NAACP had said earlier Saturday that APD “has had a culture of excessive use of force” and called for Shields to be “relieved immediately.”
The people did this. We have been calling for this resignation since she callously failed to speak with DeAundre Phillips’ family for weeks after he was awakened and killed by APD. And again after she attacked organizers who asked her to be accountable for Oscar Cain. OVERDUE. https://t.co/lRFKmVvfYL
— Tiff Roberts (@shedefendsit) June 13, 2020
In a statement Saturday morning, the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia) joined the Georgia NAACP and other civil rights groups urging Atlanta officials to respond to Brooks’ death with not only personnel changes at the police department but also major policy changes in terms of public safety.
“Changes in personnel at the Atlanta Police Department are welcome, but it’s not enough,” said CAIR-Georgia executive director Abdullah Jaber. “We now need to see immediate and radical changes in policy and policing to end the systemic oppression and anti-black racism rooted in the Atlanta Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.”
Brooks’ death came amid a global uprising demanding an end to systemic racism and police violence against people of color—particularly black Americans—that began in late May after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by kneeling on his neck while Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe.
The protests have bolstered calls to #DefundPolice—or dramatically reduce police budgets and, as Kanya Bennett of the ACLU explained, “put that savings into systems that could enfranchise black and brown people—housing, education, employment, and healthcare.” Some U.S. cities are already starting to cut and reallocate funding.
Protesters across the country have demanded not only rethinking public safety but also justice in cases of Floyd, Brooks, and others who have died at the hands of law enforcement. Simply firing the officer who killed Brooks falls short of holding Rolfe accountable, according to CAIR-Georgia legal and advocacy director Murtaza Khwaja.
“Too many investigations of police shootings, particularly those involving black men and women, disappear into a black hole for months or years without resolution,” Khwaja said Saturday. “The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office needs to act now by arresting and charging the officer who killed Rayshard Brooks.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is investigating the shooting, which occurred after APD was dispatched to respond to a complaint of Brooks sleeping in a vehicle parked in the drive-thru of a Wendy’s restaurant. GBI said in a statement Saturday that Brooks failed a field sobriety test then resisted arrest.
“During a physical struggle with officers, Brooks obtained one of the officer’s Tasers and began to flee from the scene,” GBI said, citing social media and surveillance videos. “Officers pursued Brooks on foot and during the chase, Brooks turned and pointed the Taser at the officer. The officer fired his weapon, striking Brooks.”
The Associated Press reported Sunday:
GBI Director Vic Reynolds said Brooks had grabbed a Taser from one officer and appeared to point it at the officer as he fled. The officer fired an estimated three shots.
L. Chris Stewart, an attorney for Brooks’ family, said the officer who shot him should be charged for “an unjustified use of deadly force, which equals murder.”
“You can’t have it both ways in law enforcement,” Stewart said. “You can’t say a Taser is a nonlethal weapon… but when an African American grabs it and runs with it, now it’s some kind of deadly, lethal weapon that calls for you to unload on somebody.”
He said Brooks was a father of four and had celebrated a daughter’s eighth birthday Friday before he was killed.
Echoing Stewart, Jaber of CAIR-Georgia said that “a phone call about a man sleeping in a car should never escalate into a police shooting… A taser is not a deadly weapon and shooting a man multiple times in the back while he’s running away is the epitome of police brutality. The videos speak for themselves, and we need immediate accountability.”
According to the AP, Reynolds of GBI “said his agents will turn over results of their investigation to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, whose office will decide whether criminal charges are warranted against either officer.” Howard, for his part, said Saturday his office “has already launched an intense, independent investigation of the incident.”
While Atlanta saw demonstrations following Floyd’s death, Brooks’ killing fueled more protests in the city throughout Saturday, resulting in at least 36 arrests by midnight. The Georgia NAACP and others have criticized the police response to the protests.
A child was tear gassed, people are being shot with rubber bullets literally right now, and MARTA unloaded a bus full of militarized APD officers.
The Black Mecca is and has always been a myth. https://t.co/jioSMkMzBX
— Hillary Holley (@HillaryHolley4) June 14, 2020
Crowds gathered Saturday around the Wendy’s where Brooks was killed and “by nightfall, the fast-food eatery was engulfed in flames,” CNN reported. “It took firefighters more than an hour to approach the building as it was surrounded by protesters.”
Demonstrators also marched onto the Interstate 85 and Interstate 75 connector, stopped traffic on the Atlanta highway. Some protesters locked arms despite being told by troopers to disperse and were arrested, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I was very disturbed with what happened,” Marquavian Odom, a protester in Atlanta, told CNN of Brooks’ killing. “This is something that keeps happening over and over again. We’ve been protesting about George Floyd and I thought there was going to be a change, but there wasn’t a change, it was still the same old thing.”
“I thought the message was clear,” Odom added, “but obviously we’re still not heard.”
Before Brooks was killed by police, the Georgia NAACP announced in a statement that “after weeks of protests and now a failed election, the [group] is leading a direct action on the first day of the General Assembly’s return to the State Capitol.” The “March on Georgia” event is still planned for Monday morning:
“As the legislative session starts,” the group’s statement said, “the Georgia NAACP will use the constitutional right to assembly to demand state legislators address our legislative demands and ensure criminal justice reform, repealing citizen’s arrest, stopping voter suppression, and ending police violence against our communities as well as stopping harmful anti-voting rights bill S.B. 463.”
“We are done dying,” the Georgia NAACP added. “It’s going to take real effort on the part of every elected official in the Georgia General Assembly to do their part to protect every single Georgian and ensure that this becomes a state that such a disheartening reality is of no more.”