ATLANTA (Reuters) – Relatives of Rayshard Brooks, many of them in tears, called for justice and “drastic change” in policing after a white Atlanta officer fatally shot the African-American man in the back, and the city’s mayor called for a shake-up in the force.
The death of 27-year-old Brooks, which the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office ruled a homicide, was the latest killing of a black man to spark nationwide outrage at police brutality and racial injustice.
“We’re tired and we are frustrated. Most importantly we’re heartbroken, so we need justice for Rayshard Brooks,” his cousin, Tiara Brooks, said at a news conference.
“The trust that we have in the police force is broken. The only way to heal some of these wounds is through a conviction and a drastic change in the police department,” she added.
Relatives spoke of Brooks as a warm family man who loved to take his daughter skating. One man, after breaking down in tears, left distraught, shouting, “Somebody took my cousin!”
More than 1,000 people marched on the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, calling for justice for Brooks and other slain African Americans.
“We are going to take over the capitol every single day until they do their job,” the Rev. James Woodall, president of the state NAACP civil rights group, told the crowd, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media reported.
As the crowd chanted for justice, the Georgia Assembly rebooted its 2020 session with a renewed call to pass a hate-crime law. Georgia is one of four U.S. states without such a law, which increases punishment for offenses deemed to be racially motivated.
The death of Brooks, and the separate shooting of a black jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, near the coastal town of Brunswick in February involving a former law enforcement officer, has driven calls for racial justice in Georgia.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms announced immediate reforms within the police department, including orders requiring police officers to de-escalate situations and requiring officers to intervene when they see a colleague using excessive force.
Bottoms told a media briefing that she was heartbroken and angry over Brooks’ death.
“It pissed me off, it makes me sad, it makes me frustrated and there’s nothing I can say that will change what happened Friday.”
She said she could not wait for an advisory council to come up with police reform recommendations.
Former Atlanta Police Department officer Garrett Rolfe searches 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s restaurant parking lot in a still image from the video body camera of officer Devin Bronsan in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. June 12, 2020. Video taken June 12, 2020. Atlanta Police Department/Handout via REUTERS
“It was clear that we do not have another day, another minute, another hour, to waste,” she said, adding the police must find better ways to handle confrontations.
Vince Champion, southeast regional director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, urged against a rush to judgment.
“We don’t know everything. We are basing what we saw on a video that has no context to it,” Champion told Reuters. “I do believe that the powers that be – the mayor and the DA are just trying to appease the rioters.”
President Donald Trump told reporters the shooting in Atlanta was “a terrible situation” and “very disturbing”.
The fatal encounter on Friday night began when police responded to a call Brooks had fallen asleep in his car in a Wendy’s restaurant drive-through lane.
Caught on video, the encounter seemed friendly at first but when an officer moved to arrest him, Brooks struggled with him and another officer before breaking away across the parking lot with what appeared to be a police Taser in his hand.
A video from the restaurant’s cameras showed Brooks turning as he ran and possibly aiming the Taser at the pursuing officers, both white, before one of them fired his gun and Brooks fell.
An attorney for Brooks’ family, Chris Stewart, said the police should have let Brooks walk home rather than pursue and shoot him.
“It didn’t have to go to that level,” he said. “Where is the empathy in just letting him walk home?”
Atlanta’s police chief, Erika Shields, resigned over the shooting. The officer suspected of killing Brooks was fired, and the other officer involved was put on administrative leave.
Prosecutors will decide by midweek whether to bring charges, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said on Sunday.
Brooks’ death reignited protests in Atlanta after worldwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality prompted by the death of black American George Floyd when a white Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25.
Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, implored the public to protest peacefully in her husband’s name.
“We want to keep his name positive,” she said.
Reporting by Susan Heavey, Gabriella Borter, Nathan Layne and Rich McKay; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Jonathan Oatis, Howard Goller and David Greorio
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has named a family friend to head the federal police, days after the country’s justice minister quit and accused the president of meddling in law enforcement.
The controversy over the appointment of Alexandre Ramagem and allegations by outgoing Justice Minister Sergio Moro of improper interference in the police force triggered talk of impeachment and a criminal investigation approved by the Supreme Court, as the country grapples with the coronavirus epidemic, which has now killed 5,017 people in Brazil, hundreds more than in China.
The government’s official gazette confirmed the appointment of new federal police chief Ramagem, 48, who took charge of the president’s security after Bolsonaro was stabbed on the campaign trail in 2018. The selection comes amid investigations into alleged wrongdoing by the president’s sons.
Ramagem, who joined the federal police in 2005, has the fewest years of service of any officer tapped to lead the force. He has run the Brazilian Intelligence Agency since July.
On Friday, Justice Minister Sergio Moro alleged in a stunning televised address that Bolsonaro had repeatedly said he wanted a “personal contact” in the top police job “from whom he could get information, intelligence reports.”
Justice Celso de Mello gave the federal police 60 days to carry out the investigation requested by Brazil’s chief public prosecutor Augusto Aras.
Mello’s order effectively puts Bolsonaro’s new appointee, Ramagem, in charge of the investigation.
Based on the results of the police investigation, the public prosecutor will decide whether to press charges against the president. An indictment would have to be approved by the lower house, also known as the Chamber of Deputies.
The biggest political storm since Bolsonaro took office last year comes as the COVID-19 accelerates in Brazil.
The Health Ministry reported that a record 474 people died from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 5,017. Confirmed cases have risen at 5,000 a day in the last 48 hours, to 71,866.
President Bolsonaro (in red shirt) has repeatedly defied his government’s own advisory on social distancing to join his supporters in recent rallies [File: Sergio Lima/AFP]
“So what? I’m sorry, but what do you want me to do?” Bolsonaro told reporters when asked about the record deaths.
He promised to allow the federal police under the command of its new chief to have full autonomy from the government.
But earlier on Tuesday, the opposition Democratic Labor Party asked the Supreme Court to block Ramagem’s nomination, alleging an abuse of power.
The affair has sparked talk in Congress of impeachment, just four years after such proceedings toppled former President Dilma Rousseff.
However, a poll by Datafolha published on Monday evening showed Brazilians divided on impeachment, with 45 percent supporting the move and 48 percent against.
Crucially, Bolsonaro appears to be keeping core supporters, the poll showed, with 33 percent of those surveyed saying they thought he was doing a good or excellent job.
Still, the accusations from the popular “super minister” Moro, who locked up many of powerful politicians and businessmen as a judge, has dented Bolsonaro’s corruption-fighting image, which was central to his 2018 campaign.
Moro said he had never seen political interference of the kind sought by Bolsonaro over Brazil’s federal police, even under previous governments, whose officials and allies were convicted of participating in sweeping corruption schemes.
A New Year’s party photo on social media of Ramagem grinning besides the president’s son Carlos Bolsonaro, a Rio de Janeiro city councillor, circulated widely on Tuesday, emphasising the close ties between the family and the new top cop.
Carlos Bolsonaro is the subject of a Supreme Court investigation looking at his role in disseminating “fake news,” according to newspaper Folha de S Paulo. His brother, legislator Eduardo Bolsonaro, was accused in a congressional investigation of participating in a “fake news” scheme.
Their eldest brother, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, is also being investigated by state prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro over alleged money laundering and misuse of public funds.
All three have denied any wrongdoing. They and the president have claimed the probes are politically motivated attacks.
Over the weekend, Bolsonaro took to Facebook to defend Ramagem, after word of his nomination leaked to the press.
“So what? I knew Ramagem before he knew my children. Should he be vetoed for that reason? Whose friend should I pick?” the president said in a post.