Scores of mourners, some dressed all in white and others wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, remembered Rayshard Brooks and called for change during a private funeral service Tuesday at a historic Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
“We cannot stop our demonstrations until our voices are heard and our demands for police reform are met. We must not stop until white supremacist policy and practices are no longer the order of today,” King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said. “We will not stop until voter suppression is a thing of the past. We will not stop until reparations set us on a path to be free at last.”
Brooks, 27, died on June 12 in an officer-involved shooting in a Wendy’s parking lot in Atlanta. Video showed Brooks resisted being handcuffed, grabbed and fired an officer’s Taser and started to run. One officer shot him twice in the back, investigators said.
A friend of Brooks, his mother-in-law and the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, also delivered remarks Tuesday.
“Although I did not have a chance to meet Rayshard, I am here to stand with you in what feels like an all-too-familiar moment. Having a father killed when I was only 5 years of age, my heart deeply grieves for [his daughters] Dream, Memory, Blessing and [stepson] Mekai,” King said. “I know the pain of growing up without a father and the ongoing attention around his tragic loss. I am and will continue to pray for each of you.”
Tomika Miller, the wife of Rayshard Brooks, holding their 2-year-old daughter, Memory, while pausing with her children during the family processional at his funeral in Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)
“This did not have to happen to Rayshard,” King said. “Rayshard Brooks’ life matters, and he should’ve been able to live to enjoy his family and watch his kids grow up into adulthood.”
“The officers should have gone home that night without blood on their hands,” King went on. “This is the great tragedy in our nation that must cease.”
King also said June 12 was “a constant reminder for the struggle for justice,” noting that on that date in 1963, Medgar Evers, the field secretary for the Mississippi NAACP, was gunned down in his driveway, and, on that date in 1964, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to over through the government of South Africa.
“This happened in the city known as the black Mecca. The city in the city whose grounds are known for America and the world’s warrior of peace. My daddy, Martin Luther King Jr., who taught us that true peace is not merely the absence of tension but it is the presence of justice. Therefore, there can be no peace in Atlanta nor anywhere in our nation where there is no justice. No justice… no peace,” King said, receiving echoes of the phrase from the crowd.
“Atlanta is not immune to the problem of systemic and structural racism. Atlanta is being called to take now to respond to the age-old racism virus… It’s now time for Black Lives Matter.”
Others at the service included Stacey Abrams, the former state lawmaker who has been mentioned as a potential running mate for the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden. Jon Ossoff, a young Georgia media executive and Democrat challenging Republican Sen. David Perdue later this year, also was seen. Some mourners wore T-shirts with Brooks’ picture.
The service followed the public viewing Monday held at the same church.Warnock said actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry offered to cover the funeral costs.
Family members and friends wearing white during a processional for the funeral of Rayshard Brooks at Ebenezer Baptist Church. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)
The two officers involved in Brooks’ death were facing charges. The department fired Garrett Rolfe, the officer who shot Brooks.
Officer Devin Brosnan, who was first at the scene responding to a 911 call about someone unresponsive in a car blocking the drive-thru lane, said he would not have done anything differently but expressed remorse over Brooks’ death.
“It’s totally a tragedy,” Brosnan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview published Monday. “At the end of the day, someone lost their life. To me, it’s heartbreaking no matter the circumstances, no matter what. When anybody dies truly is something you never want to see happen, to have happen. I can’t imagine what a family would go through.”
Video showed the officers talking to Brooks and conducting a field sobriety test before telling Brooks to put his hands behind his back. Brooks snatched Brosnan’s Taser and fired the electrical current at him, which Brosnan was seen deflecting away from his head with his hand. Brooks started to run away and Rolfe fired at him three times, striking him twice in the back.
The body of Rayshard Brooks arriving for his funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)
Brosnan was released on a $50,000 bond. He’s been charged with aggravated assault for standing on Brooks with his boot and three violations of his oath of office. Rolfe remained jailed on a felony murder charge and 10 other counts.
“I feel like my side wasn’t really heard and given the short timeframe it’s hard for anybody to understand all the facts and the whole circumstances around it,” Brosnan said. “That being said, I’m still willing to cooperate.”
The funeral service Tuesday was live-streamed on the church’s website, and BET offered live commercial-free coverage of the event.
A judge postponed an afternoon bail hearing for Rolfe that would have conflicted with the funeral. Under the law, crime victims and their families are entitled to be heard at such proceedings.
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned the day after the shooting. The city erupted in violence and protests, as rioters set the Wendy’s on fire. Brooks’ death followed the killing of another black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis on May 25.
Floyd died after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, was seen kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes while three other officers failed to intervene. The video of the incident sparked widespread calls for an end to racial injustice and police brutality, as well as weeks of violent riots and looting after nightfall. Officers and protesters have both suffered injuries in violent clashes.
Black Lives Matter has renewed calls to defund police departments around the country, and Confederate statues and monuments have been either vandalized by protesters or removed by officials in several states.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.