The chief of the Atlanta Police Department resigned on Saturday, hours after an officer fatally shot a 27-year-old black man in a Wendy’s parking lot.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a press conference that the officer involved in the Friday night shooting should be fired.
“I firmly believe that there is a clear distinction between what you can do and what you should do. I do not believe that this was a justified use of deadly force and have called for the immediate termination of the officer,” she said.
Bottoms named an interim police chief to succeed Erika Shields and said the city will begin a search for a new leader for its force and implement reforms within 45 days.
“Our first demand has been met,” one protester, Antonio Lewis, told The Daily Beast as the news of Shields’ resignation filtered through a crowd gathered outside the Wendy’s on Saturday evening.
Police were called to the Wendy’s parking lot on Friday because Rayshard Brooks, 27, was sleeping in a car in the drive-through lane.
Police say they found Brooks passed out in the car and, after administering a field sobriety test, attempted to arrest him for DUI, but he resisted.
Eyewitness video showed a struggle ensuing between Brooks and two officers. An officer attempted to stun Brooks with a Taser, and Brooks attemped to grab the weapon. He then ran away from the officers, out of the frame of eyewitness videos, before an officer fired his gun. Brooks was taken to a hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries following surgery.
“To the family of Mr. Brooks, there are no words I can offer that can change your loss. I do hope you will find some comfort in the swift actions taken today and the reforms our city will implement,” Bottoms said.
Hundreds of demonstrators held vigil for more than 12 hours at the fast food chain, and Atlanta City councilmember Andre Dickens said the incident should not have been fatal.
“Police must de-escalate situations like these before they turn deadly,” he said in a statement. “Once the suspect fled unarmed and intoxicated through a parking lot of bystanders, this could have become an investigation rather than a shooting.”
GBI Director Vic Reynolds said investigators had reviewed footage from the Wendy’s and concluded it showed Brooks fleeing the Wendy’s with the stun gun and trying to fire it at the officers before he was shot dead. The agency released the grainy video on Saturday and said they were yet to digitally enhance it.
Brooks’ death comes amid nationwide demonstrations against police brutality following the alleged murder of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of white police officers in Minneapolis. Cell phone video of an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes shocked and galvanized the nation.
Brooks’ cousin Kedaro Jackson, who also lives in Atlanta, described his younger relative as “another young black man who was trying to get himself together.” Brooks had moved back to the city from Ohio less than three months ago for a job in construction. He often came to Jackson for advice, and the two were close.
Brooks left behind a large family, including five siblings—two brothers and three sisters. He had a baby this year, his fourth with his wife, according to Jackson.
Jackson was the first to learn of Brooks’ death, though video of it had already begun circulating online. He notified the rest of their large family. The death came the day after Jackson welcomed a baby as well.
“I’m confused. It’s a lot to process right now. Everything has a time,” he told The Daily Beast. “The last thing I told him was to stay focused and continue doing the right thing.”
Jackson saw the video of the scuffle between Brooks and the officers differently than the GBI.
“If you look at the video, he didn’t grab the Taser until the officer was already trying to tase him. He tried to grab it so the man could stop tasing him. He was pushing the officers off him and running and saying, ‘Don’t shoot me! Don’t shoot me!’ When the police shot the three shots, they said ‘I got him, I got him!’” he said.
He plans to attend growing demonstrations Saturday night. “It wouldn’t be right if I don’t go,” he said.
Though the crowd size has fluctuated, protesters maintained a vocal presence outside the fast food restaurant on Saturday, and organizers had called for more to show up.
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Seanny Georgie, a local musician who has been marching for law enforcement accountability since May 30, the day after Atlanta’s latest spate of Black Lives Matter protests kicked off, caught wind of the officer-involved shooting around midnight. He immediately began to round up fellow protesters to head to the Wendy’s.
“There were like 50 protesters and four cops behind us with their guns ready, just looking at us really weird, trying to scare us off,” Georgie told The Daily Beast about the scene when he arrived. The early-morning situation intensified as demonstrators chanted that the police were “pigs” and “murderers.”
Atlanta rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris made a brief appearance at the rally, urging protesters to vote with their wallets, as well as at the ballot box. “Corporations spend money on politicians campaigns, so when you find out that there’s a corporation that’s supporting a certain politician that doesn’t support your concerns, stop spending your money there,” he said.
Asked about rumors that protesters planned to destroy the Wendy’s where Brooks was shot, Harris said, “I honestly don’t think Wendy’s is ‘our community.’ But I don’t think that destroying personal property is an answer. Why burn this building down if the people who did it ain’t in the building?”
Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown said he was nearly asleep when he found out about the incident. By 1:30 a.m., he was on the phone with Erika Shields, assuring her he’d serve as a buffer between law enforcement and the growing crowd. “I told Chief Shields I would help try to deescalate the crowd and keep them in order and peaceful,” he said.
Brown said he planned to pitch legislation to the city council on Monday that would bar the city’s police force from using rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters.
In response to the unrest Atlanta witnessed during the early days of the protests, Bottoms launched a task force to evaluate the government’s use-of-force policies. And though the deadline for officials to make recommendations for potential reform is set for June 18, Brown said, “We cannot wait.” By then, he said, “another person could lose their life.”
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