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Mourners bid farewell to Rayshard Brooks at historic church

by Kate Brumback —

ATLANTA — Scores of mourners Tuesday paid their final respects to Rayshard Brooks at the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used to preach, taking part in a funeral filled with historical echoes and a tragic sense that Black America has been through this all too many times before.

“Rayshard Brooks is the latest high-profile casualty in the struggle for justice and a battle for the soul of America. This is about him, but it is so much bigger than him,” the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, told the crowd, less than two weeks after the Black man was shot twice in the back by a white Atlanta police officer following a struggle in a fast-food parking lot.

Warnock recited a long list of names of Black people who died at the hands of police in recent years, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile and George Floyd, lamenting: “Sadly we’ve gotten too much practice at this.”

Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, dressed in white, sat surrounded by family and friends. Former state lawmaker Stacey Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, both of whom have been mentioned as potential 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’ picture. Nearly everyone had masks on against the coronavirus.

Brooks’ killing June 12 came amid weeks of turbulent and sometimes violent protests across the U.S. over Floyd’s death under a white Minneapolis officer’s knee on May 25. In the aftermath of Brooks’ death, the Atlanta police chief resigned, and protesters burned the Wendy’s restaurant.

As the funeral was underway, authorities announced the arrest of a suspect in the fire, identifying her as 29-year-old Natalie White — according to her lawyer, the same woman Brooks described to police on the night he was shot as his girlfriend.

The lawyer, Drew Findling, said White was distraught over Brooks’ death but was “absolutely not responsible for the fire,” saying the blaze was already underway when she was seen on video approaching the restaurant.

The deaths of Floyd and Brooks have led to a groundswell of protests against racial inequality, a movement to take down Confederate statues and other symbols, and demands for the dismantling of police departments or the shifting of their funding toward 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,” the Rev. Bernice King, the civil rights leader’s daughter, told the crowd at the funeral.

She noted ruefully that the killing took place in Atlanta, the “Black mecca” and “the city that is supposed to be `too busy to hate.’”

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 noted that Brooks’ death took place on the same date that NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in Mississippi in 1963 and Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in South Africa in 1964.

Brooks, 27, was shot by Officer Garrett Rolfe after a struggle that erupted when police tried to handcuff him for being intoxicated behind the wheel of his car at a Wendy’s drive-thru. Video showed Brooks snatching a police Taser and firing it at the officer while running away.

 

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