ATLANTA (AP) — Scores of mourners, some dressed all in white and others wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, gathered at the historic Atlanta church that was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s pulpit for a funeral Tuesday for the Black man whose killing by police in a fast-food parking lot stoked protests across the U.S. against racial injustice.
“We are here because individuals continue to hide behind badges and trainings and policies and procedures rather than regarding the humanity of others in general and Black lives specifically,” the Rev. Bernice King, the civil rights leader’s daughter, said at the private service at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
She noted ruefully that the killing took place in Atlanta, the “Black mecca” and “the city that is supposed to be `too busy to hate.'”
But in a powerful echo of her father’s “I Have a Dream” speech, she declared: “Rayshard Brooks’ death will not be in vain because justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, sat surrounded by family and friends dressed in white. Former state lawmaker Stacey Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, both of whom have been mentioned as potential running mates for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, were there.
Some mourners wore T-shirts with Brooks’ picture. Nearly everyone wore masks against the coronavirus.
“We would be dishonest if we did not discuss what got us here in the first place,” said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist. “Rayshard Brooks is the latest high-profile casualty in the struggle for justice and a battle for the soul of America. This is about him, but it is so much bigger than him.”
He recited a long list of names of Black people to die at the hands of police in recent years, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile and George Floyd, lamenting in front of the congregation: “Sadly we’ve gotten too much practice at this.”
Brooks, 27, was shot twice in the back June 12 by Officer Garrett Rolfe after a struggle that erupted when police tried to handcuff him for being intoxicated behind the wheel of his car at a Wendy’s drive-thru. Video showed Brooks snatching a police Taser and firing it at the white officer while running away.
Rolfe, 27, was charged with murder and jailed without bail. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, 26, was charged with aggravated assault, accused of stepping on Brooks’ shoulder as he lay dying on the pavement. Lawyers for both men said their clients’ actions were justified.
The killing unfolded amid protests and scattered violence set off around the country by the case of George Floyd, the Black man who was pronounced dead May 25 after a white Minneapolis put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.
Atlanta’s police chief stepped down less than 24 hours after Brooks’ death, and the Wendy’s was burned by protesters.
While Brooks was not a member of Ebenezer Baptist, the church where King preached is a “sanctuary for those who suffer,” Warnock said in a statement announcing the funeral plans. Actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry offered financial help for the service, according to the statement.
An afternoon bail hearing for Rolfe that would have conflicted with the funeral was canceled by a judge. Under the law, crime victims and their families are entitled to be heard at such proceedings.
Meanwhile, a new poll that finds nearly all Americans favor at least some change to the nation’s criminal justice system, and they overwhelmingly want to see clear standards on when police officers may use force and consequences for those who cross the line.
The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research said 29% think the criminal justice system needs “a complete overhaul,” 40% say it needs “major changes,” and 25% say it needs “minor changes.” Just 5% believe no changes are necessary.