ATLANTA (AP) — Mourners filed through Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church on Monday for a public viewing of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man whose fatal shooting by a white police officer came amid growing calls for an end to racial injustice after the death of George Floyd.
Latoya Spikes, 40, and her daughter, 12-year-old Morgan Green, arrived more than two hours early and were first in line outside the church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was once pastor and where Brooks’ funeral is set for Tuesday.
“We want to come in peace and we want to go in peace. We didn’t want to get caught up in a crowd of unrest,” Spikes said. “We just wanted to come and show our respects.”
About an hour before the four-hour public viewing began, a gold-colored casket carrying Brooks’ body arrived at the church. Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, followed a short time later wearing a white dress printed with a photo of the two of them.
Officer Garrett Rolfe, 27, fatally shot Brooks, 27, in the back after Brooks fired a Taser in the officer’s direction while running away after a struggle with officers outside a Wendy’s fast food restaurant on June 12.
The shooting happened against the backdrop of nationwide protests following Floyd’s death after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. Demonstrations have called for rethinking policing and an examination of racism in the United States.
“I didn’t know Rayshard Brooks but, just like George Floyd, we know him now,” said Manerva Harris, 42, who wore a shirt reading “I CAN’T BREATHE.” She used an umbrella to shield herself from intense afternoon sun while she waited in line.
“Not even a week after they had buried Mr. Floyd, now here we go where we have another black family going through the same thing,” she said. “It’s hard and it’s just crazy that we’re still living like this today.”
Brandon Hooks had taken his 11-year-old son Braden, who was visiting from Alabama for Father’s Day, to the nearby King Center to learn about the civil rights movement, “just for him to see, you know, what black people have been through.” When he realized Brooks’ viewing was happening across the street, he decided they should stop and pay their respects.
“It was emotional because that could be me, and I want him to realize and I want him to see that it could be him. I want him to understand the importance of what we’re going through,” Hooks said after leaving the church, explaining that as a Black man he’s always felt fear when he sees police.
A video feed from inside the church showed mourners — some wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts and all wearing masks as a precaution against the coronavirus — filing past the casket where Brooks lay in a white suit and gold tie.
Brooks’ eulogy Tuesday is to be delivered by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist and a Democrat running for U.S. Senate.
An officer responding to complaints of a car blocking the drive-thru lane found Brooks asleep inside. Police body camera video then showed Brooks and officers having a calm and respectful conversation for more than 40 minutes.
After conducting field sobriety tests, Rolfe told Brooks he’d had “too much to drink to be driving.” Brooks resisted being handcuffed, and he and the two officers wrestled on the ground. Brooks grabbed one of their Tasers and fired it in their direction as he ran away.
An autopsy found he was shot twice in the back.
Rolfe was fired and the other officer, 26-year-old Devin Brosnan, was placed on desk duty after the shooting. Police Chief Erika Shields stepped down less than 24 hours after Brooks died.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard last week announced 11 charges against Rolfe, including felony murder. Brosnan, who the prosecutor said stood on Brooks’ shoulder as he struggled for his life, is charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath.
Lawyers for both men said their clients’ actions were justified.
Interim police Chief Rodney Bryant has said he was surprised Howard brought charges so quickly, before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had finished looking into the shooting. The GBI said in a tweet after Howard announced the charges that the agency was not consulted on the charges.