ATLANTA — Scores of mourners, some dressed all in white and others wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, filed into the historic Atlanta church that was once 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.
King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, planned to deliver remarks at the private service, along with a friend of Brooks, his mother-in-law and the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Rev. Raphael Warnock.
“Rayshard Brooks wasn’t just running from the police. He was running from a system that makes slaves out of people. A system that doesn’t give ordinary people who’ve made mistakes a second chance, a real shot at redemption,” Warnock, a Democratic candidate for Senate, said in an excerpt of his eulogy released ahead of the service.
Among those arriving was Stacey Abrams, the former state lawmaker who has been mentioned as a potential running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Jon Ossoff, a young Georgia media executive who broke fundraising records during an unsuccessful 2017 run for Congress, was also seen. Some mourners wore T-shirts with Brooks’ picture.
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.