Residents of Atlanta grappled Sunday with a city roiled by the fatal police shooting of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks and protests that resulted in the burning down of the Wendy’s where Brooks was killed in the parking lot.
The charred remnants of the Wendy’s continued to smolder Sunday.
A massive protest led by the NAACP calling for social justice and police reform was already planned outside the state Capitol for Monday as lawmakers consider hate crimes legislation and other key initiatives.
The demonstrations are expected to only grow after a weekend that began with the killing of Brooks and within about 24 hours saw the city’s police chief resign, the officer involved in the shooting fired and protests turned fiery. Crime Stoppers of Greater Atlanta announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of those involved in burning down the Wendy's.
The New York Times correspondent Richard Fausset tweeted a powerful image late Saturday of a woman with her fist raised, smoke from the Wendy’s billowing into the nighttime sky behind her.
In Atlanta’s historic Grant Park neighborhood, about 200 to 300 protesters gathered outside the Zone 3 police precinct at Cherokee and Atlanta Ave. where they were met with a large presence of tactical units in riot gear.
Doug Blackmon, a Pulitzer-winning journalist and professor of powerful writing/narrating justice project at Georgia State University, said that shortly after midnight an order was given to disperse the crowd.
“No more than a minute later, flash bang grenades were being set off, as law enforcement moved forward in formation, into the crowd to begin making arrests,” Blackmon wrote on Facebook. “Some people ran wildly. Others tried to rally protesters to make a stand. But that clearly was not going to happen.”
Meanwhile, Atlanta police overnight released body and dash cam video that showed what began as a cordial interaction between officers and Brooks suddenly becoming chaotic when officers tried to handcuff him. The two officers wrestled with him on the ground, before Brooks managed to grab one of their Tasers, struggled to his feet and began to flee.
As Brooks ran with officers in pursuit, he turned over his shoulder and appeared to try to fire the Taser at one of the officers when he was gunned down.
GBI Releases Surveillance Video Of Fatal Police Shooting Of Rayshard Brooks (Warning: Viewers May Find Footage Disturbing)
Police said the officer who opened fire, identified as Garrett Rolfe, had been fired. Rolfe is 27, the same age Brooks was. A second officer, Officer Devin Brosnan, was placed on administrative duty.
The Fulton County Mecical Examiner's Office determined Brooks died after being struck by two bullets in the back; the autopsy revealed he suffered organ failure and blood loss, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and now activist, appeared on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, saying the killing was another example of why the nation needs “reformation and transformation” of police departments to “save black lives.”
“What happened yesterday to Rayshard Brooks was a function of excessive force,” Abrams said.
Changes to public safety practices or redistributive funding to tackle systemic inequities and racism are not in conflict.
To pit them against one another is a false choice.
On Saturday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made the surprise announcement at an afternoon news conference that Police Chief Erika Shields had agreed to step down in wake of the shooting.
“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,” the mayor said. “I do not believe that this was a justified use of force.”
“What has become abundantly clear over the last couple weeks in Atlanta is that while we have a police force full of men and women who work alongside our communities with honor, 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.”
The mayor said a nationwide search for a new police chief would begin. She said Deputy Chief Rodney Bryant will serve as the interim chief until then.
Shields, a veteran of the Atlanta force for more than 20 years, will continue in a role "to be determined,” the mayor said. She had served as chief for nearly 3 ½ years.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office have both launched investigations.
The Brooks’ family hired attorneys L. Chris Stewart and Justin Miller to represent the family. The attorneys have represented an array of victims' families in high-profile police shootings.
In a news conference late Saturday, Stewart said witnesses told them that the officers put on plastic gloves and picked up their shell casings “after they killed him before rendering aid.”
“We counted 2 minutes and 16 seconds before they even checked his pulse,” Stewart said. “Just watch the video. As he lays there dying, the officers stand around. One kicks him and flips him over.”
The shooting follows weeks of protests calling for police reform and social justice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, who died after a Minnesota officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In Atlanta, dozens of protesters blocked the southbound lanes of the Interstate 75/85 connector – the main artery through downtown -- near University Ave., not too far from the Wendy's where the shooting happened. Protesters chanted "Shut it down" and "No peace, no justice." Traffic grew to a standstill for more than an hour, stretching for miles in both directions.
Outside the Wendy's, demonstrators grew angrier as night took hold, setting fires outside the building, smashing windows and blowing up fireworks in and around the building.
Shortly after 10:30 p.m., the Wendy's was completely ablaze, with bright yellow and orange flames stretching high into the sky.