ATLANTA —Mourners gathered for the funeral of Rashard Brooks on Tuesday in Ebenezer Baptist Church, a historic Atlanta sanctuary that rose after the Civil War and Reconstruction, survived decades of Jim Crow laws, and for years served as a spiritual home for civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The years weighed heavily as family and friends clad in white and wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic filed into the red-brick church under cloudy skies, for yet another black man killed, with a white police officer accused of murder in his death.
They mourned one man, and yet so many men and women, taken from their families over months and many years.
“This did not have to happen to Rashard,” the Rev. Bernice King, a daughter of King Jr. and the CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, said of Brooks, who was fatally shot June 12. King called the moment “all too familiar.”
She was 5 when her father was assassinated. She wore a lacy white dress to his funeral in the same church in 1968. Fifty-two years later, she stood at the pulpit and saw Brooks’s three daughters, also in white dresses.
“There are so many ways that Friday, June 12, could have ended, and a police killing did not have to be one of them. And yet here we are again,” she said.
The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist, said 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 much bigger than him,” Warnock said, invoking the names of George Floyd, who died in May when a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, Breonna Taylor, an EMT, shot and killed in March by police in Louisville, Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed in February by men who chased him while he was jogging, and many others. Three white men have been charged in Arbery’s death.
“This country has become too accustomed and comfortable with black people dying,” Warnock said.
Brooks, a 27-year-old married father of four, was shot and killed by a police officer who said he was investigating a report of an intoxicated man sleeping in a car at a Wendy’s drive-through in Atlanta, authorities said. Brooks failed a field sobriety test. When officers tried to handcuff Brooks after speaking with him for nearly a half-hour, a scuffle broke out, Brooks grabbed an officer’s Taser and started running, according to a preliminary report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Video of the incident shows Brooks pointing the Taser toward officers while running away; shots are then heard. Brooks died of two gunshot wounds to the back, according to authorities.
Brooks’ death led to the resignation of Atlanta police chief Erika Shields and inflamed ongoing nationwide protests over police violence against black people. Brooks died a little more than two weeks after Floyd.
Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe has been charged with murder and other offenses related to Brooks’s death, and he remained in custody Tuesday, county records show. Devin Brosnan, the other officer at the scene, has been charged with aggravated assault and other crimes. Lawyers for Rolfe and Brosnan have defended their clients and said the shooting was justified in a volatile situation. Read more