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Atlanta Organizer: Rayshard Brooks Killing Shows Urgent Need to Dismantle Police

Rayshard Brooks’s killing comes as protests against racism and police violence continue across the country.

Protests have erupted in Atlanta, where the police killing of unarmed African American man Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot has outraged residents. The autopsy revealed that Brooks was shot in the back as he was running away, and the death has been ruled a homicide by the county medical examiner. Brooks’s killing comes as protests against racism and police violence continue across the country. The Atlanta police chief has already resigned, and the officer who shot Brooks has been fired. “What we saw happen to Mr. Brooks is unfortunately something that we continue to see repeated in our communities all across this country,” says Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, which is part of the National Bail Out collective and the Movement for Black Lives. “What we continue to see is police being called in as first responders to things that they should not be showing up for.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today marks the 20th straight day of nationwide uprising against police brutality and racism. It was sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As calls to defund the police grow, another Black man was killed by a white police officer on Friday, this time in Atlanta. Twenty-seven-year-old Rayshard Brooks was asleep in his car at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant drive-thru when a police officer arrived on the scene to ask him to move his car. The encounter was caught on surveillance camera and by a witness. A warning to our listeners and viewers: We’re about to play graphic video of police violence.

The officer, Devin Brosnan, called for backup, and a second officer, Garrett Rolfe, arrived. The police questioned Brooks, patted him down, with his assent, and gave him a breathalyzer test, which he failed. Rayshard Brooks asked the officers if he could lock his car and walk to his sister’s house a short distance away, saying to them, quote, “I can just go home.” Instead, the officers attempted to handcuff Brooks, at which point he began to resist and try to escape. One of the officers, Garrett Rolfe, fired a stun gun at Brooks, who then managed to take the other officer’s stun gun and run away. Garrett Rolfe then fired three gunshots at Rayshard Brooks, who was pronounced dead at the hospital later that night. The autopsy showed the officer shot Brooks twice in the back. The Fulton County medical examiner has ruled Brooks’ death a homicide.

Less than 24 hours after the shooting, Atlanta’s Police Chief Erika Shields resigned. Garrett Rolfe, the officer who killed Brooks, has been fired, and the second officer placed on administrative leave. The Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard criticized the officer’s use of deadly force, saying, quote, “[Brooks] did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone, and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable,” he said. The DA is expected to announce this week whether any charges will be filed, and is now considering murder charges.

Chris Stewart, a lawyer for the Brooks family, said the police cannot claim a Taser is a deadly weapon.

CHRIS STEWART: That’s the case law here, that Tasers are not deadly weapons. So, before we even hear from their lawyers, who are going to say the same old thing they always say, you cannot have it both ways. You can’t say he ran off with a weapon that could kill somebody, when you say it’s not deadly. …

I can even say we want justice, but I don’t even — I don’t even care anymore. I don’t even know what that is. And I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I don’t know what justice is anymore. Is it getting him arrested? Is it getting somebody fired? Is it a chief stepping down? I know that this isn’t justice, what’s happening in society right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Atlanta erupted in mass protest over the weekend as demonstrators shut down the freeway to demand justice for Rayshard Brooks. The Wendy’s where he was murdered was burned to the ground.

Rayshard Brooks was the father of three daughters and one stepson. He was supposed to celebrate his 8-year-old daughter’s birthday with her on Saturday, the day after he was killed by the Atlanta police.

Well, for more, we go to Atlanta, where we’re joined by Mary Hooks.

Mary, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what took place on Friday? Can you talk about the death of Rayshard Brooks and the response to it? This is a man who was asleep in his car in the parking lot of a Wendy’s. Police were called. Take it from there, Mary, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, part of the National Bail Out collective.

MARY HOOKS: Thank you so much for having me. And yeah, you know, what we saw happen to Mr. Brooks is unfortunately something that we continue to see repeated in our communities all across this country. What we saw, a gentleman sleeping in his car, and escalated to the point by which the police were called, ultimately turning out to be a scuffle that led to his death. And I think that, again, what we continue to see is police being called in as first responders to things that they should not be showing up for. And what we continue to see is people demanding that the police not be an occupying force in our communities anymore.

And so, the response that we’re seeing, in terms of the protest, is certainly directed toward this particular incident, but the millions, the thousands of situations and incidences where police continue to show that the institution of policing is rotten to its core. And so, of course, people are in their righteous anger, in their righteous anger when they respond to the police violence that, unfortunately, across this country many pretend as if it’s just about one bad apple. But we’re very clear that it is about a rotten system that needs to be dismantled, period.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Rayshard Brooks’ wife, Tomika Miller, who spoke to CBS, saying the officers need to be put away.

TOMIKA MILLER: If it was my husband who shot them, he would be in jail. He would be doing a life sentence. They need to be put away. I feel like even though everything happened so fast, it didn’t take nothing but a split second for the other officer to say, “Hey, calm down.” He could have told his partner, “Calm down.” So, all of them need to be sentenced the same way.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Rayshard Brooks’ wife. Now let’s go to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaking at a news conference Saturday.

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS: While there may be debate as to whether this was an appropriate use of deadly force, 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Bottoms also announced the resignation of Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields.

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS: Chief Erika Shields has been a solid member of APD for over two decades and has a deep and abiding love for the people of Atlanta. And because of her desire that Atlanta be a model of what meaningful reform should look like across this country, Chief Shields has offered to immediately step aside as police chief so that the city may move forward, with urgency, in rebuilding the trust so desperately needed throughout our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Atlanta Mayor [Bottoms], and she’s talking about also the resignation of the police chief of Atlanta, who not only was dealing with — was overseeing the department with the death of Rayshard Brooks, but also with the incredible scene of these two students from historically Black colleges, from Spelman and Morehouse, being tasered by the Atlanta police. Immediately, two of them were charged — well, I think six, charges were brought against them, and two were fired. If you can talk about, first, Rayshard Brooks and the response with the police chief, and then what happened to these students? And put it in a bigger picture of police violence, Mary.

MARY HOOKS: Yeah, I think what we’re seeing with this case of Mr. Brooks and Shields resigning, I think we’re going to see a slew of police chiefs begin to leave their post, if you will, I think, because many of them know that transformation is on the rise, that transformation is inevitable, and many of them do not have what it takes to carry that water and to carry us into a different way of engaging with safety in this country. And so, I think that it was right for her to do so.

And I think that we need to continue to look at who else needs to move from these seats of power, so that folks who have a different vision, have some political imagination and actually can see the possibilities of what happens when we defund the police and invest resources in community, and can see the possibilities of that — and we know that defunding is not going to happen overnight. We know that it’s not zero out the budget tomorrow. But what we do know is that folks have to be committed to a long-term process of changing the way in which we rely and the way in which we depend on cops, cages, courts and all the systems and institutions that harm Black people and oppress people in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Hooks —

MARY HOOKS: And so, it’s a tipping point.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Stacey Abrams, the former leader of Georgia’s House of Representatives, speaking on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. Her name, like Mayor Bottoms, is being floated as a possible VP pick for Joe Biden, who has stated his opposition to calls of defunding the police. She was asked if defunding the police is necessary.

STACEY ABRAMS: I think we’re being drawn into this false choice idea. The reality is we need two things. We need reformation of how police officers do their jobs, how law enforcement does its job. … I served in the state Legislature for 11 years, and I served on the Committee of Purview. I took action to increase police accountability. I took action to address the issues of criminal justice reform. But I also know that we have to have a transformation of how we view the role of law enforcement, how we view the construct of public safety and how we invest not only in the work that we need them to do to protect us, but the work we need to protect and build our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Mary Hooks?

MARY HOOKS: Yeah, I think — you know, I agree, again, that the transformation is critical. And I think that for folks who continue to propose reform as the process by which we get there have either chosen to ignore what is happening in our reality, the history that also informs our rage and our righteous anger, and so I think that beyond the reform, we’re no longer buying that. You know? We’re no longer buying that.

And I know that many folk go into political office well intended with a lot of great intentions. However, officers, no matter their intention, no matter their motive, they are tied and bound to a system that, by its training, its orders, its beliefs, is inherently rotten. And so, anything less than a conversation on how we shrink that institution until it is no longer legitimate — that is the conversation. Anything else is an insult to our suffering.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Hooks, a lot of the media, of course, has covered what happened to Rayshard Brooks, but what isn’t talked about as much — I mean, the video is actually long, the surveillance video. Now there’s videocam from the police officers. It goes on for well over half an hour. And he’s talking to the police officers. He was assenting to everything they asked, about the pat-down, the breathalyzer test. Then they try to handcuff him, and that’s when he gets into a scuffle with them. What isn’t talked about as much is, look at that time. We’re talking about just this Friday, more than two weeks after the death of George Floyd, massive protests in thousands of cities, towns across this country, certainly in Atlanta, as well — the terror that people feel around the police. So, he lived through all of that, and then they are handcuffing him behind his back, after he’s spoken to them calmly, talked to them about his kids’ birthdays and everything else, but he’s still being handcuffed behind his back — exactly what happened to George Floyd. He also was handcuffed. People don’t talk about the terror that people feel of police, why someone would up and run.

MARY HOOKS: And I think it’s — again, I think it’s the cognitive dissonance that oftentimes many people in this country fail to acknowledge, because, again, we know the history of policing, that comes out of slave patrols, and we understand the way in which they have been brought in as an occupied force in our communities, that we have seen decades and decades, generations, of the call for police violence to stop, the calls for police to change their tactics, to not use lethal force, to not use excessive force, and none of that has gotten us anywhere.

And so, it behooves me when people can watch an incident like this and see where two police officers had complete autonomy to make a decision. The gentleman asked for a ride home. They could have called a Lyft. So many options were available, but they chose not to step into a different level of humanity. They chose not to see this person as a person whose family and life mattered. And they went from zero to 100. And so, again, that shows you that, of course, even on a simple call like that, where it should have clearly been, “Hey, let’s just get you home so you’ll be OK,” can escalate.

And so, I, too, as many of the folk I know, walk through our communities, engage and drive in community and down the street, and are afraid. Afraid. I’ve been abused by the police before. I’m very clear of that feeling. And so, it is no — you know, people want us to pretend as if the police aren’t who they are, that the G.I. Joes aren’t coming up into our community the way in which they are. And it’s a complete lie, and we refuse to give them the credit as if they have been the ones out here actually bringing about safety, because that’s not the case.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Hooks, finally, I wanted to ask you — Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, the Princeton professor, just wrote a piece for The New York Times headlined “The End of Black Politics: Black leaders regularly fail to rise to the challenges that confront young people.” And you are speaking to us from Atlanta, where Rayshard Brooks was just killed. It’s often considered the Black Mecca, with a majority African American population, led by an African American mayor. The police chief was a woman. Can you talk about this kind of politics and how you feel?

MARY HOOKS: Well, you know, I think it is very specific to Atlanta. I think it’s super interesting that Atlanta has not — in all of its desire to be the Black Mecca, Atlanta has not taken up the charge on what it means to address the systemic violence and oppression of Black people. And I think a big part of that is because there is an elite class here, that class, I think, is one of the major issues that prevents Atlanta from being the Wakanda it wants to pretend to be. Atlanta has one of the highest income gaps in this country. And most people know that either you are very well-off here in Atlanta or you’re struggling, period.

And I think that to see mayors and city officials, who oftentimes will parade around talking about that they honor the legacy of Dr. King and they celebrate what happened 60 years ago, but they have no notches under their belt that shows that they actually have the same level of desire to ensure Black people get closer to our liberation. And I think that — yeah, that that’s a big part of why we’re seeing Black mayors, even many of them who were on CNN last night, continue to show their inadequacy, because they have not been able to address what is happening and clean up the mess that the “war on drugs” has created. Many of those Black mayors and those who they come out of a legacy of, they were responsible and made horrible decisions in the ’90s, in which many of us — and I’m speaking specifically to the crime bill, that has caused so much ravage and damage in community.

And so, I think that that’s why we need an intergenerational movement. That is why we need elected officials to actually have a deep investment in hearing what young people and a younger generation are calling for, because we’re the spear of the movement, if you will. And again, if they cannot align their power and align their interests with what’s being called for right now, then they actually have to move around, because they’re doing more damage than good right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Hooks, I want to thank you for being with us, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, SONG, which is part of the National Bail Out collective and the Movement for Black Lives. Mary is an organizer with National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day. Well, we’ve just been talking about the escalation, police escalation, of violence, after they came upon a man, Rayshard Brooks, who was asleep in his car in a parking lot. Within an hour, they killed him.

When we come back, we’ll speak with a 27-year-old African American man, just like Rayshard Brooks, but he trained San Jose police about racial bias, but police shot him in the groin with a rubber bullet during a recent anti-police-brutality protest. Stay with us.

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