Dozens of mourners, most dressed in white and almost all wearing masks, filled the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday afternoon for the private funeral of Rayshard Brooks, a black man who was shot dead by a white police officer in the Atlanta Wendy’s restaurant, almost two weeks ago.
Brooks, the father of three daughters and one stepson, was shot twice in the back while fleeing from Atlanta Police Department agents. He died in the hospital after surgery. The shooting occurred amid international protests against police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
Reverend Bernice King, in an emotional church speech where her father, Martin Luther King Jr., was a co-pastor from 1960 until his murder in 1968, said she knew of the pain that Brooks’ children felt.
“Having a murdered father when I was only 5 years old, my heart is very sad,” said King. “I know the pain of growing up without a father. And the constant attention around his tragic loss.”
King said he was crying with Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, and her loved ones.
“We really shouldn’t be here today. This didn’t have to happen to Rayshard,” said King. “There are so many ways that Friday June 12 could have ended. And a police murder did not have to be one of them. And yet here we are again.”
“Ironically,” King said, June 12 is the same day that civil rights activist Medgar Evers was killed on his driveway in 1963.
“June 12 is also the same day in 1964 that Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to overthrow the government of South Africa,” he added, noting that Mandela became president of the country.
“So on June 12,” said King, “Now is a constant reminder of the fight for justice for the lives of blacks around the world. Tragically here we are once again.”
King said he was at Brooks’ funeral for “what seems like an overly familiar moment.”
“We are here because people continue to hide behind badges and trainings and policies and procedures rather than considering the humanity of others in general and the lives of blacks specifically,” he told the crowd.
Ambrea Mikolajczyk, the owner of a construction company in Toledo, Ohio, where Brooks worked last year, remembered him as a “once-in-a-lifetime individual.” Brooks had overcome his circumstances and was working hard to “become the best provider, caregiver, community builder, father, husband, son, brother and relationship agent that he could be,” he said.
Mikolajczyk said Brooks cycled to work every day, regardless of the weather, and was always the first to arrive at the service.
On one occasion, when a coworker’s car broke down, Mikolajczyk said, Brooks got off his bike, pushed the car, and walked alongside him for two hours. “That’s the kind of man Ray was,” he said. “He took care of everyone.”
His clients referred to Brooks as “legal assistance” because he knew the answers to everything, Mikolajczyk said. He was “smart as a whip” and helpful almost to the point, he said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and singers Tamela Mann and Kelly Price attended the funeral. Mann sang her hit, “I Only Only Imagine”.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church and Democratic nominee for the United States Senate, gave the eulogy on Tuesday. Warnock said the funeral was paid for by media tycoon Tyler Perry, a prominent figure in Atlanta.
Warnock recited a long list of names of black people who have been killed by the police in recent years, including Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Botham Jean and George Floyd, saying, “Sadly, we “I’ve practiced too much on this.”
Warnock said he heard some say that the Floyd and Brooks cases are not the same, because Floyd complied and Brooks ran. “Yes,” he said. “It is true.”
“But they are both dead. And therein lies the problem,” he said. “Black parents really don’t know what to say to their children to keep them alive, and that’s a problem. That’s not just a black problem. It’s happening to black people, though. It’s an American problem.”
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said at a news conference last week that Brooks “never presented himself as a threat” and appeared “almost jovial” before the fatal shooting. He said Brooks followed all of the officers’ instructions and was never informed that he was under arrest for driving under the influence.
Officers responded to a 911 call on June 12 about an intoxicated-looking man sleeping in his car at the entrance to Wendy’s. Brooks was interrogated by officers for more than 25 minutes, video footage of the body and the dash camera.
The Atlanta police officer who shot Brooks, Garrett Rolfe, was fired and charged with murder. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, was placed on administrative duty and charged with aggravated assault. The city’s police chief resigned. Wendy’s restaurant was burned down and protesters took to the streets of Atlanta after Brooks’ death.