Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 July 2020

Funeral for Rayshard Brooks held in historic Atlanta church

Brooks was mourned at church where Martin Luther King Jr once preached

Scores of mourners paid their final respects to Rayshard Brooks on Tuesday at the Atlanta church where the Rev Martin Luther King Jr used to preach, in a funeral filled with historical echoes.

“Rayshard Brooks is the latest high-profile casualty in the struggle for justice and a battle for the soul of America,” the Rev Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, told the crowd.

"This is about him but it is so much bigger than him."

The funeral came less than two weeks after the African-American man was shot twice in the back by a white Atlanta police officer after a struggle in a fast-food parking lot.

Mr Warnock recited a long list of names of African-Americans who died at the hands of police in recent years, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile and George Floyd.

“Sadly, we’ve gotten too much practice at this,” he said.

Brooks’s widow, Tomika Miller, dressed in white, sat surrounded by family and friends.

Former state politician Stacey Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, both of whom have been mentioned as possible running mates for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, were among the mourners.

Most people dressed all in white, while some wore T-shirts with Brooks’s picture. Nearly all wore masks to protect against the coronavirus.

The killing of Brooks, 27, on June 12 came during weeks of turbulent and sometimes violent protests across the US.

After his death, the Atlanta police chief resigned and protesters burnt the Wendy’s restaurant where he was shot.

As the funeral was under way, authorities announced the arrest of a suspect in the fire, Natalie White, 29, her lawyer said.

Brooks told police she was his girlfriend on the night he was shot.

The lawyer, Drew Findling, said Ms White was distraught over Brooks’s death but was “absolutely not responsible for the fire".

Mr Findling said the blaze was already under way when she was seen on video approaching the restaurant.

Ms White has been charged with first-degree arson, online jail records show.

The deaths of Floyd and Brooks have led to a groundswell of protests against racial inequality.

It also started a movement to take down Confederate statues and other symbols, and demands to dismantle police departments or shift their funding towards social services.

“We are here because individuals continue to hide behind badges and trainings and policies and procedures, rather than regarding the humanity of others in general and black lives specifically,” Rev Bernice King, the civil rights leader’s daughter, told the crowd at the funeral.

Ms King, who was a child when her father was assassinated in 1968, told the mourners she was at the church for “what feels like an all-too-familiar moment".

She said Brooks died on the same date that Medgar Evans, leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, was assassinated in Mississippi in 1963.

It was also the same date that Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in South Africa in 1964.

But in a powerful echo of her father’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Ms Kind said: “Rayshard Brooks’s death will not be in vain because justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Police body-camera video showed Brooks, 27, and officers having a calm and co-operative conversation for more than 40 minutes.

A struggle erupted when police tried to handcuff Brooks for being intoxicated behind the wheel of his car at the Wendy’s drive-through.

He grabbed one of the officers’ Tasers and fired it in their direction as he ran away.

Officer Garrett 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’s shoulder as he lay dying on the pavement.

Lawyers for both men said their clients’ actions were justified.

Rolfe was fired and Brosnan was placed on desk duty.

Meanwhile, Seattle police said on Tuesday they were investigating a third shooting in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood near the city's police-free "autonomous zone".

On Monday, the Mayor of Seattle pledged to dismantle the encampment set up by anti-racism protesters.

Police tweeted the shooting took place on the edge of the area being occupied by protesters after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.

A man was taken to Harborview Medical Centre at 5am for a gunshot wound and was in satisfactory condition, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.

Updated: June 26, 2020 01:12 AM

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