Funeral services were held Tuesday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church to, a 27-year-old black man whose death in a police shooting earlier this month sparked protests. Brooks’s death, less than three weeks after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, helped fuel a against police violence and racial injustice.
On the night of June 12, Atlanta police officers were called to a Wendy’s car where Brooks had fallen asleep. They said he failed a sobriety test and grabbed an officer’s Taser. Surveillance video shows Brooks was on the run when he was shot twice in the back. Two officers involved face charges and one has been.
A private visit to Brooks was held on Monday at the church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once served as a pastor. Brooks family attorneys said Atlanta-based media mogul Tyler Perry approached them to offer to pay for the funeral.
Reverend Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of the late civil rights leader and CEO of the Center for Nonviolent Social Change Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the service.
“We really shouldn’t be here today, this shouldn’t have happened to Rayshard,” King said Tuesday. He called for police reform so that officers cannot “continue to hide behind the insignia” when using deadly force.
King also discussed Brooks’ four young children and his own experience of losing a father. “Having killed my father when I was only five years old, I know the pain of growing up without a father,” he said. “I am and will continue to pray for each one of you. Rayshard Brooks’ life is important.”
The praise was delivered by Reverand Raphael Warnock, the church’s senior pastor. He called Brooks’ death “the latest high-profile causation in the fight for justice and the battle for the soul of the United States.”
In his eulogy, Warnock also called for police reform, but emphasized that the problem is bigger than just the police. He said that the real “monster” is the mass incarceration system in the United States: “The land of the free is the world capital of mass incarceration.”
He said that, as a previously incarcerated person, Brooks’ actions on the night of his death were likely motivated by fear of returning to the prison system from which he was working hard to stay away.
“He lost his life fleeing a system that too often makes people slaves,” said Warnock, adding: “This is much bigger than the police, it is a system that cries out for renewal and reform.”
Brooks leaves behind an eight-year-old wife,and four young children. “At this time, I am not yet processing the fact that my husband will never return home,” Miller told CBS News several days after the shooting.
“It was a murder. That was not justified,” he said. “Because they shot him and he was not armed. He was not dangerous.”
The officer who opened fire, Garrett Rolfe, lost his job and was charged with murder and 10 other charges. Another officer at the scene, Devin Brosnan, was placed on administrative duty and faces minor criminal charges. Police Chief Erika Shields resigned the day after the shooting, and Deputy Director Rodney Bryant, who is black, will serve as the city’s acting police chief.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ordered changes to the Atlanta Police Department’s use of force policy and said the shooting “infuriated and saddened me more than words.”