Funeral services were held Tuesday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church for Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man whose death in a police shooting earlier this month sparked protests. Brooks’ death, less than three weeks after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, helped fuel a growing national movement against police violence and racial injustice.
On the night of June 12, Atlanta police officers were called to a Wendy’s drive-thru where Brooks had fallen asleep. They said he failed a sobriety test and grabbed an officer’s Taser. Surveillance video shows Brooks was running away when he was shot twice in the back. Two officers involved are facing charges and one has been charged with murder.
A private viewing was held for Brooks on Monday at the church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once served as its pastor. Attorneys for Brooks’ family said Atlanta-based media mogul Tyler Perry reached out to them to offer to pay for the funeral.
Brooks’ friend and colleague Ambrea Mikolajczyk called him “a rare, once in a lifetime, individual” who was always quick to help others despite overcoming his own difficult circumstances. “Ray’s bright light will forever change the world,” she said.
His mother-in-law, Rochelle Gooden, spoke about how he was more like a son to her. “He always took me as mom, and I always took him as son,” she said.
Reverend Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of the late civil rights leader and CEO of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, also spoke at the service.
“We really should not be here today, this should not have happened to Rayshard,” King said Tuesday. She called for police reform so that officers cannot “continue to hide behind badges” when using deadly force.
King also spoke of Brooks’ four young children and her own experience of losing a father. “Having my father killed when I was only five-years-old, I know the pain of growing up without a father,” she said. “I am and will continue to pray for each of you. Rayshard Brooks’ life matters.”
The eulogy was delivered by Reverand Raphael Warnock, the church’s senior pastor. He called Brooks’ death “the latest high-profile causality in the struggle for justice, and the battle for the soul of America.”
In his eulogy, Warnock also called for police reform but stressed that the problem is bigger than just the police. He said the real “monster” is the system of mass incarceration in the United States: “The land of the free is the mass incarceration capital of the world.”
He said that, as a formerly incarcerated person, Brooks’ actions on the night of his death were likely motivated by a fear of returning to the prison system he was working hard to stay out of.
“He lost his life running from a system that too often makes slaves out of people,” Warnock said, adding, “this is much bigger than the police, this is about a system that cries out for renewal and reform.”
Brooks leaves behind a wife of eight years, Tomika Miller, and four young children. “Right now, I’m still not processing the fact that my husband’s not coming home ever,” Miller told CBS News several days after the shooting.
“It was murder. That was not justified,” she said. “Because he was shot and he wasn’t armed. He wasn’t dangerous.”
The officer who opened fire, Garrett Rolfe, lost his job and has been charged with felony murder and 10 other counts. Another officer at the scene, Devin Brosnan, was placed on administrative duty and is facing lesser criminal charges. Police Chief Erika Shields resigned the day after the shooting, and Assistant Chief Rodney Bryant, who is black, will serve as the city’s interim police chief.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ordered changes to the Atlanta Police Department’s use-of-force policy and said the shooting “angered me and it saddened me beyond words.”