The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is investigating the killing of a 27-year-old black man, Rayshard Brooks, outside a Wendy’s drive-through in Atlanta by police on Friday night. The incident has further galvanized anti-racism and police brutality protests in the city and prompted activists to call for the firing of Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields — a call she responded to by resigning Saturday afternoon.
According to the GBI, Atlanta police officers were called to the scene around 10:30 pm after receiving a complaint of a man sleeping in his vehicle, which was blocking the drive-through and forcing other cars to drive around it.
The police officers gave Brooks a field sobriety test, and he failed, according to investigators. The GBI claimed in an initial statement released Saturday — based on limited body camera footage and police and witness accounts — that this is what transpired following the testing:
After failing the test, the officers attempted to place the male subject into custody. During the arrest, the male subject resisted and a struggle ensued. The officer deployed a Taser. Witnesses report that during the struggle the male subject grabbed and was in possession of the Taser. It has also been reported that the male subject was shot by an officer in the struggle over the Taser.
The GBI later reported in an update that it had obtained surveillance from Wendy’s and reviewed a viral video captured by a witness’s cell phone that was posted to social media, saying video evidence appears to show Brooks grabbing the taser and pointing it at an officer.
“These new videos indicate that during a physical struggle with officers, Brooks obtained one of the officer’s Tasers and began to flee from the scene,” the statement reads. “Officers pursued Brooks on foot and during the chase, Brooks turned and pointed the Taser at the officer. The officer fired his weapon, striking Brooks.”
In the graphic video posted to social media, it’s difficult to assess exactly what is happening at several points before Brooks was shot because a significant amount of the struggle takes place off camera. The video begins with Brooks and two officers struggling on the ground; after an exchange of blows, Brooks can be seen running across the parking lot with something in his hand. The camera pans as officers chase him; during a moment when the view in the video is blocked by a car, shots can be heard. The video ends with Brooks on the ground, not moving.
A video the GBI released from one of the Wendy’s surveillance cameras shows the end of the encounter slightly more clearly; Brooks, running, begins to turn, his arm raised with what appears to be a taser. At least one of the officers shoots, and he falls to the ground; the officers stand by him for about ten minutes, until an ambulance arrives.
After being shot, Brooks was taken to a hospital, where he died after surgery, according to the GBI.
The lethal shooting comes amid weeks of nationwide protests that began after a now-former Minneapolis police officer killed an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by placing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. And it follows a series of police shootings in Georgia — Brooks’s killing is the 48th officer-involved shooting that the GBI has been called upon to investigate so far this year.
Ahead of his death, protesters gathered in the city as part of that nationwide movement; Saturday, they gathered outside the Wendy’s where Brooks was killed, chanting, “No justice, no peace.”
At the Wendy’s, Decatur Redd, a relative of Brooks, expressed shock to reporters.
“I’ve watched this on the internet, from the whole George Floyd situation, to us coming together like we’re doing — and this whole thing landed on my doorstep with my little cousin,” Redd said, according to CNN. “I thought Atlanta was higher than that. I thought Atlanta was bigger than that.”
Rev. James Woodall, state president of the Georgia NAACP, said Shields should be fired.
“This is not the first time a black man has been killed for sleeping,” Woodall said, according to the Washington Post. “While Atlanta is often called ‘the Black Mecca,’ the Atlanta Police Department has a continued history of antagonizing our communities.”
Shields responded to this demand, and those of other activists, by tendering her resignation Saturday afternoon.
“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 and rebuilding the trust that is desperately needed throughout our communities,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a press conference Saturday evening.
Stacey Abrams, a former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, also called for action.
“The killing of #RayshardBrooks in Atlanta last night demands we severely restrict the use of deadly force,” Abrams tweeted. “Yes, investigations must be called for — but so too should accountability. Sleeping in a drive-thru must not end in death.”
Bottoms said she agreed Saturday: “While there may be a debate about whether this was an appropriate use of deadly force, I firmly believe there is a clear distinction between what you can do and what you should do.” She added that as a result, “I have called for the immediate termination of the officer.”
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