Democrats call for police reform after killing of Rayshard Brooks

Protests in Atlanta over shooting of Rayshard Brooks

Leading Democrats said on Sunday the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta underlined the need for significant change in US law enforcement, as the country headed into a fourth week of unrest over police brutality and systemic racism.

Mr Brooks, 27, was shot on Friday night after officers responded to a call about him falling asleep in his car while in the drive-thru line at a Wendy’s fast food restaurant. Video showed Mr Brooks and officers in lengthy conversation before an altercation erupted. Officer Garrett Rolfe shot Mr Brooks while he tried to flee.

The killing came after weeks of protests fuelled by the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, on whose neck a police officer kneeled for nearly nine minutes. On Saturday night, demonstrators marched in Atlanta and the restaurant in question was burned.

House majority whip James Clyburn said he was incensed.


“You wonder, sometimes, when you’re dealing with an issue like this out here for two or three weeks, and then you see a police officer still being insensitive to the life of a young African American man,” the South Carolina Democrat told CNN’s State of the Union.

“This did not call for lethal force. And I don’t know what’s in the culture that would make this guy do that. It has got to be the culture. It’s got to be the system.”

Police reform

Stacey Abrams, a former minority leader of the Georgia House and candidate for governor now a contender to be Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick, told ABC’s This Week more money should be allocated to social services, along with comprehensive police reform.

“What happened yesterday to Rayshard Brooks was a function of excessive force,” she said, adding that officers “were either embarrassed or, you know, panicked led them to murder a man who they knew only had a Taser in his hand”.

Multiple rallies were held on Saturday, shutting down traffic around the burned restaurant. Police used tear gas and flash grenades to try to disperse the crowds.

Atlanta’s police chief stepped down. Officer Rolfe was fired hours later. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said: “I do not believe this was a justified use of deadly force.”

At a news conference, the mayor said: “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 honour, 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.”

L Chris Stewart, a lawyer for the Brooks family, told reporters a Taser was a non-lethal weapon and people should not be shot dead for holding one.

The officer’s life “was not in immediate harm when he fired that shot”, Mr Stewart said, adding: “The one thing that nobody can disagree with is that it shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Because the value of African American males’ lives in the inner city or wherever doesn’t mean too much to officers these days. And it’s sad.”

Another family attorney, Justin Miller, said Mr Brooks was due to celebrate with his daughter at her eighth birthday party on Saturday. She was the oldest of three, the others being one and two. Mr Brooks also had a 13-year-old stepson.

“They had a birthday party for her with cupcakes,” Mr Miller said. “While we were sitting there talking to her mom about why her dad’s not coming home.”


On Friday, Mr Miller said, Mr Brooks took his daughter to get her nails done, to an arcade and to eat together to celebrate. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), at about 10.33pm Atlanta police were dispatched to Wendy’s in response to a complaint about a man asleep in his car in the drive-thru.

The GBI released footage from a surveillance camera, one of several videos released by authorities or published on social media. Body camera and dashboard camera footage from the Atlanta police department showed 40 minutes between when officers knocked on Mr Brooks’ car door and when he was shot.

The interaction started calmly, Mr Brooks moving his car at the request of officer Devin Brosnan. The two men talked in measured tones. Officer Rolfe arrived a few minutes later and interviewed Mr Brooks for more than 20 minutes before administering a field sobriety test.

Failing the test, Mr Brooks resisted arrest and wrestled with the officers. He appeared to obtain a Taser and ran away. Rolfe shot as he fled.

Atlanta police fired Rolfe and put Brosnan on administrative duty.

Resigning, as the Georgia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had demanded, Atlanta police chief Erika Shields said she did so “out of a deep and abiding love for this city and this department”.

Mr Brooks duly takes his place in a long line of African Americans killed by police. Demands for justice also continue in the shooting of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.

The protests have galvanised calls to not only reform or defund police departments but to also end racism in the workplace, media and other institutions. Protests in solidarity have taken place across the world, thousands turning out in London, Berlin and other major cities.

On Sunday, Ms Abrams said: “Activists are necessarily calling into question what’s actually being done.

"And what I would say is that there is – there's a legitimacy to this anger, there's a legitimacy to this outrage. A man was murdered because he was asleep in a drive-thru and we know that this is not an isolated occurrence." – Guardian service