A Weekend Of Outrage, Atlanta’s Police Department Shaken Over Shooting Death Of Rayshard Brooks

Atlanta police officers try to stop protesters from getting too close to a Wendy's restaurant as the building is completely engulfed in flames in June 2020. The protests followed the Atlanta police killing of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks.

Lily Oppenheimer / WABE

The scene at the University Avenue Wendy’s on Saturday night: Kendrick Lamar lyrics carry through thick smoke, police strap on riot gear, and the familiar chant of “No Justice, No Peace” echoes from the shutdown I-75/85 Southbound connector to the front perimeter of the restaurant. It’s almost 24 hours after white Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe shot and killed 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks in that parking lot of the restaurant.

Protesters stand on top of car hoods, raising their fists and watching the restaurant burn. A makeshift memorial with black balloons and a painting of Brooks will hang there the next morning.

Activist Jonathan Lykes, a local activist, said he helps direct the group, Liberation House – which advocates for black, indigenous, queer and trans people, and organizes equity training sessions for businesses nationwide. He also works with the Atlanta chapter of the Black Youth Project 100.

Lykes screamed at protesters outside the Wendy’s to back up, worried that the flames could reach pumps at a nearby gas station.

Others walked straight up to the fire and started recording.

“You might wanna step back from that side of the street! If the fire hits the gas station, it ain’t gonna be pretty,” Lykes said.

“I do not want this to blow up the block.”

Meanwhile, the fallout of weekend outrage ended in Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields stepping aside. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that she will serve in another city role, too be determined.

Lykes said that all police chiefs should step down.

“I think that we need to defund police and put that money into black communities,” he said. “I think if you give us resources, we will make it work for our people and keep our communities safe.”

But Mayor Bottoms has said she won’t defund the police in the city of Atlanta. Defund, activists say, doesn’t necessarily mean disband. It could mean reallocating funds from police departments – which make up one-third of the city’s $670 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2021.

Bottoms said keeping those funds is important for recruitment, and police must be able to afford a home in the city where they work. The starting salary for an APD officer is $48,500.

Approximately 48 hours after Brooks was shot, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office classified his death as a homicide.

The autopsy results released late Sunday night show Brooks died from organ damage and blood loss from two gunshot wounds to his back.

APD eventually terminated Rolfe, who fired the shots that ultimately killed Brooks. The other officer involved in the struggle with Brooks, Devin Brosnan, has been placed on administrative duty.

Police eventually released additional footage from body cameras and Wendy’s surveillance footage. There one can watch Brooks calmly speak and cooperate with the officers for more than 45 minutes. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, officers were originally dispatched to the scene because Brooks was asleep in his car, forcing customers to steer around him. Eventually, body cam video shows Officer Brosnan knocking on the vehicle window and asking Brooks to pull over.

Brooks eventually fails a sobriety test, and, as officers try to handcuff him, a struggle ensues. Brooks reaches for and grabs one officer’s taser. He runs away while firing it towards the officers.

*Videos contain graphic content*

GBI Director Vic Reynolds said in a press conference Saturday that agents were working to digitally enhance the video. To the naked eye, Reynolds said, it appeared that Rolfe fired his handgun while Brooks took aim with his taser as he ran across the parking lot.

Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard also released a statement criticizing how police handled the situation. Howard, who’s launched an independent investigation, says he will determine whether to bring charges in the case.