Atlanta, Georgia, is bracing for unrest following the shooting of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks on the evening of June 12. Police responded to a call about a man asleep at the wheel of his car at a Wendy’s drive-thru. Brooks resisted officers who attempted to arrest him for driving while intoxicated. After a struggle, the man was able to take one of the officers’ tasers and runs from the scene. Moments later, he was shot dead.
The incident, which appears more complex than the recent killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, was captured on police bodycam. Reaction to the shooting has been swift: the officer who shot Brooks has been terminated – which might well prove to be premature and detrimental to any legal case brought against him. Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields has resigned. The fast-food restaurant has been burned to the ground, and a whole new round of recrimination, race-baiting, political posturing and violent protest is about to begin – or has already started.
The Bodycam recordings
Police bodycam footage from the scene shows a white officer engaging in a civil verbal exchange with Brooks, a black man. But after the latter took a breath test, the officer took out a set of cuffs and told Brooks to put his hands behind his back. Brooks immediately begins to struggle violently and, shortly thereafter, manages to gain possession of one of the officers tasers. At that point, it is not entirely clear exactly what happened, except that Brooks runs from the scene, and the officer shoots him moments later.
The incident is tragic, just as all fatal shootings are – whether police are involved or not. Numerous questions arise from what can be seen on the bodycam recording, and most of those questions cannot be answered appropriately until the investigation has been done.
Questions, Claims, and Dangerous Speculation
Unlike George Floyd, Brooks indeed resisted arrest and did so violently. At one point, he and both attending officers go to the ground, and a prolonged struggle ensues. Brooks is clearly seen attempting to flee with a taser. Beyond that, much is speculative. Was Brooks shot in the back as he ran from the scene? His attorneys claim that, yes, he was – but the Michael Brown “hands up, don’t shoot” lie teaches us that interested parties do not accurately describe how events unfold. Did Brooks, in fact, turn and point the taser at officers, as some reports have claimed? If he did so, was his shooting justified?
Usually, a police officer involved in a fatal shooting is placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation. One of the officers involved in the Brooks shooting has been placed on leave, but the other has been fired. Is that a knee-jerk reaction to the incident? Has the city of Atlanta overreacted, fearing unrest on the scale of the riots and demonstrations that followed Floyd’s killing? Will the firing prove premature, and have the police officer’s rights been violated? This last question is one for legal minds and, no doubt, one for the police union to consider.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is said to be on the list of potential 2020 running mates for Joe Biden. Her prospects, in that matter – and perhaps her political future more generally – could be on the line as she responds to Brooks’s death. While it is difficult to argue that George Floyd’s killing was justified, the shooting of Rayshard Brooks is far less clear-cut. Overreaction by those with a vested interest in stirring unrest and racial tension is certain to prevail, unfortunately – at least in the short-term. The city of Atlanta, along with much of the country, is in for another round of turmoil.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.