Atlanta police chief Erika Shields resigned Saturday after video emerged of another fatal police shooting of an African American, and as protests over police brutality and racism continued for the third straight weekend.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who announced Shields’s departure, also called for the immediate termination of the police officer involved in the shooting of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks after a DUI stop, saying she did not “believe that this was a justified use of deadly force.”
“What has become abundantly clear over the last couple of weeks in Atlanta is that while we have a police force full of men and women who work alongside our communities with honor, respect and dignity, there has been a disconnect with what our expectations are and should be, as it relates to interactions with our officers and the communities in which they are entrusted to protect,” Bottoms said at a Saturday evening news conference.
Bottoms’s words were not enough to quell protesters, who gathered Saturday afternoon in front of the Wendy’s where the shooting took place chanting, “Say his name! Rayshard Brooks!” Organizers said they are calling for a strike by black workers on Juneteenth.
“Boycott the dollar,” protesters chanted. “Black dollars matter.”
Activists and Democratic lawmakers have called on the city to hold the police officer who shot Brooks accountable. Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia in 2018, tweeted that Brooks’s killing “demands we severely restrict the use of deadly force.”
“Yes, investigations must be called for – but so too should accountability,” Abrams wrote. “Sleeping in a drive-thru must not end in death.”
The Atlanta Police Department was dispatched Friday night to a Wendy’s on a complaint about a man parked and asleep in the drive-through, according to a preliminary report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Atlanta police performed a sobriety test on the man, later identified as Brooks. When Brooks failed the test, officers attempted to put him in custody. The response escalated when Brooks grabbed an officer’s Taser.
According to a Wendy’s surveillance video released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Saturday afternoon, Brooks ran from the officers. In the video, the officers are seen chasing Brooks. After running the equivalent of six or seven parking spots, Brooks turns back toward the officer and appears to point the Taser at him, at which point the officer draws a weapon from his holster and fires at Brooks.
Brooks falls to the ground as other cars in the lot pull aside, and both officers stand over him. An ambulance later arrives and takes Brooks away. Brooks was taken to a hospital, where he died after surgery.
The video does not appear to show Brooks’s initial struggle with the officers; a cellphone video posted to Twitter on Friday night purportedly showed Brooks’s clash with two police officers in the parking lot.
GBI director Vic Reynolds said he was releasing the footage in an effort to be transparent. Reynolds also said agents have been directed to expedite the investigation. “We want everyone to see what we have seen in this case,” Reynolds said.
Bottoms said it was Shields’s decision to step down, and that she will remain employed by the city in an undetermined role. In a statement, Shields wrote “it is time for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Brooks’s death marks the 48th officer-involved shooting the GBI has been asked to investigate in 2020. Earlier this month, a judge in Glynn County, Ga., ruled that three white men accused in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black jogger, in February will stand trial for murder.
William “Roddie” Bryan, who captured Arbery’s death on a cellphone, told investigators that Travis McMichael uttered a racial slur before police arrived, according to testimony by a GBI agent.
Once the GBI completes its independent investigation, the case will be turned over to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office for review. On Saturday, the office said it had already launched “an intense, independent investigation of the incident” and that officials were also on the scene after the shooting. According to local outlet 11 Alive News, the two officers involved in the shooting have been removed from duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
On Saturday, the Georgia NAACP called for the release of body camera footage and all surveillance video from surrounding buildings.
“This is not the first time a black man has been killed for sleeping,” the Rev. James Woodall, state president of the Georgia NAACP, said on a call with reporters. “While Atlanta is often called ‘the Black Mecca,’ the Atlanta Police Department has a continued history of antagonizing our communities.”
Woodall said the Georgia NAACP has hired a private investigator and that a news conference would take place Tuesday morning.
As video footage circulated more widely on Saturday, politicians and civil rights activists called for lasting police reform to protect black Americans. Those calls continued even after Bottoms announced Shields’s resignation as protests continued into Saturday night.
Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio who served as housing secretary under President Barack Obama and ran for president last year, asked why armed cops should “be the first responders to a call for a man SLEEPING IN HIS CAR?” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted that after watching footage of the Atlanta shooting, “there is enough probable cause to arrest the police officer for murdering a Black civilian running away from him.”
“The killing of Black Americans by government has got to stop,” Lieu wrote.
Protesters gathered in Atlanta on Saturday to decry Brooks’s death, echoing gatherings over the killing of George Floyd that continued in cities around the country and in Europe.
In cities including New York, Chicago, Paris and Zurich, demonstrators marched through streets and demanded an end to racial injustice and police brutality. The diversity, breadth and endurance of the protests since Floyd’s death on May 25 offer an indication of the growing power of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Palmdale, Calif., where a 24-year-old black man was found hanging from a tree last week, protesters gathered Saturday to demand answers from local authorities. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said an initial investigation indicated the man, Robert Fuller, committed suicide – a conclusion rejected by his family.
The third weekend of protests in Chicago turned to a side of the city that rarely gets people marching in the street: Jefferson Park, a neighborhood located on the far northwest side of the city known primarily as a bedroom community populated by many police, firefighters and blue collar workers. Hundreds of demonstrators showed up with signs Saturday for the first time, surprising many of the residents.
“You have to go where they live,” said Sterling, 27, a black protester who declined to give his last name.
A group of teenagers in Mason, Ohio, organized a march of about 600 people in the Cincinnati suburb – chanting “black lives matter” in the overwhelmingly white town.
Mariah Norman, a 17-year-old Mason High School junior who helped organize the event, said the Republican-leaning town is “ready to join the fight” for racial equality.
“It’s like the town has woken up,” she said.
The massive protests over Floyd’s death and quickly shifting public opinion about racism and policing have already moved political leaders to begin enacting policy changes.
The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a resolution Friday aimed at transforming its approach to public safety, part of a sweeping tide of police policy revisions being embraced by state and local leaders from New York to Seattle.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed into law new police accountability measures, including one that would allow officers’ disciplinary records to be disclosed. The package also included a ban on chokeholds.
“Police reform is long overdue,” Cuomo said Friday during the signing ceremony.
In Iowa, the front page of Saturday’s Des Moines Register newspaper featured a picture of Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, signing police reform legislation that bans most chokeholds and increases accountability. Surrounding her were black lawmakers with their fists raised in the air.
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Rachel Siegel