Hundreds of mourners, family members, and political figures flocked to the church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached this week to honor the life of Rayshard Brooks, who was fatally shot by an Atlanta police officer after he fell asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru lane.
The two-day memorial service for the 27-year-old—whose June 12 death sparked widespread outcry, the resignation of Atlanta’s police chief, and criminal charges against the two officers involved—began on Monday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where hundreds of residents stood in the rain to pay their respects to Brooks.
On Tuesday, Brooks’ family held private funeral service at the church founded in 1886. King’s daughter, Rev. Bernice A. King, passionately spoke at the funeral held where her father served as co-pastor for eight years before his 1968 assassination—admonishing police brutality in a city she said is a “Black mecca.”
“This did not have to happen to Rayshard,” King said. “There are so many ways Friday, June 12, could have ended, and a police killing did not have to be one of them.”
Calling racism a virus named “COVID-1619,” King stated that Brooks’ tragic death is another reminder that “it’s now time for Black Lives Matter.” She then echoed her father’s “I Have a Dream” speech, declaring, “Rayshard Brooks’ death will not be in vain because justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
“We are here because individuals continue to hide behind badges and trainings and policies and procedures rather than regarding the humanity of others in general and Black lives specifically,” King added.
Before the Monday viewing, which was live-streamed, retired law enforcement officer Bruce W. Griggs sat across the street from the church and held up an 8-foot card for people to sign condolences for the Brooks family. Inside the card, Griggs wrote, “Thinking of your family and wishing you all comfort and peace.”
“I care about the family of Rayshard Brooks,” Griggs told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I care about for family of future Rayshard Brookses out here.”
Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, was among several family members who sat in the pews at the front of the church as mourners filed in Monday. On Tuesday, Miller wore a white dress with a mask donning a picture of the Brooks family.
Miller sat among four packed pews of family members—all wearing white and some wearing black masks in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Stacey Abrams, the former top Democrat in the Georgia House, also attended the service.
“I am here to stand with you in what feels like an all too familiar moment, having a father killed when I was only 5 years of age,” King said, referencing the assassination of her father. “My heart deeply grieves for Dream and Memory and Blessing and Mekai. I know the pain of growing up without a father and the ongoing attention around his tragic loss. I am and will continue to pray for each of you.”
The Brooks family stated Monday they do not want any current—or former—Atlanta Police Department officers at public and private memorial services, according to CBS46. Brooks’ family attorney Chris Stewart announced last week that actor/producer Tyler Perry will be paying for the funeral costs.
“I think you should obey the law and respect authority. But if your skin is the weapon and your complexion is the crime, what do you do to stay alive? Comply like George Floyd? Or run like Rayshard Brooks?” Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, said in his eulogy on Tuesday.
Former Atlanta cop Garett Rolfe, 27, has been charged on 11 counts, including felony murder, for fatally shooting Brooks as he ran away through the crowded parking lot. The other officer on the scene, Devin Brosnan, also faces three charges, including aggravated assault and the violation of his oath.
“Mr. Brooks on the night of the incident was calm and cordial and displayed a cooperative nature. Secondly, even though Mr. Brooks was slightly impacted, his demeanor during this incident was also jovial,” Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said last Wednesday in a press conference announcing the charges. “Mr. Brooks never presented himself as a threat.”
Authorities say the confrontation began at around 10:30 p.m. on that Friday night, when officers Brosnan and Rolfe arrived at the Wendy’s in south Atlanta to find Brooks—a father of four—asleep in a car blocking the drive-thru lane.
Released body-cam footage showed the officers talked with Brooks for 27 minutes. During the conversation, the pair asked if Brooks had been drinking, to which he replied he had consumed maybe one and a half cocktails. The officers then conducted a breathalyzer test on him, finding Brooks had a .108 blood alcohol level—which is above Georgia’s legal limit.
When the two officers tried to handcuff Brooks, a struggle ensued for about 41 seconds before the 27-year-old appeared to grab Brosnan’s stun gun. Brooks got up and ran away. As he was running, he turned and fired the Taser toward Rolfe, who had already grabbed his service weapon from its holster.
Howard alleged that Rolfe knew that the Taser that Brooks was holding when he was shot had been fired twice—rendering it unusable and not a danger to the officers. When Brooks turned and tried to fire the Taser at the two men as he was running, Rolfe shot Brooks in the back.
“Mr. Brooks was running away at the time the shot was fired,” Howard said, stating that he was about 18 feet and three inches away from Rolfe when he was fired upon, a violation of police code and use of excessive force. He added that after Rolfe shot Brooks twice in the back, he yelled, “I got him!” before kicking the 27-year-old “while he was lying on the ground.”
Brooks did not receive aid for two minutes—and Brosnan stood on his shoulders “as he was fighting for his life,” Howard said.
Six minutes after the shooting, an ambulance arrived to take Brooks to Grady Memorial Hospital. Brooks was pronounced dead shortly after surgery at the hospital. The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office autopsy revealed Brooks suffered two gunshot wounds to his back and died from blood loss and injuries to several organs.
After the incident, cellphone video of the shooting exploded on social media, prompting protesters to immediately converge at the scene of the crime amid ongoing protests over the police killing of George Floyd. Hours later, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that Police Chief Erika Shields was stepping down after determining the shooting was not justified. Brosnan was placed on administrative leave and Rolfe was fired the next day.