Editorial: Rayshard Brooks was reportedly drunk and running away, so did police have to shoot him in the back and kill him?

Tribune Content Agency

Once again, a city is in turmoil over the horrific killing of a Black man by a white police officer.

This time it’s in Atlanta, where a benign police call June 12 about an apparently intoxicated man asleep and blocking the drive-thru at a Wendy’s frighteningly ended with Rayshard Brooks dead — shot twice in the back as he ran away.

At this moment, when all eyes across this country and the world are on police conduct in the weeks since George Floyd’s killing by police, we struggle to understand why an officer would not look for any other option than to shoot to kill.

Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned a day after the shooting, which was video-recorded and shared widely on social media. And Officer Garrett Rolfe was charged on June 17 with felony murder and 10 other charges. Another white officer, Devin Brosnan, faces three charges, including aggravated assault.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said that after shooting Brooks, Rolfe said “I got him” and kicked him, and officers didn’t render medical aid for two minutes after the shooting. We get that officers are often placed in emotional and volatile situations. But the whole incident suggests a dangerous “shoot-first” mentality that has led to such distrust of the police among communities of color.

In our view, this is another case that highlights the critical importance of de-escalation training in our country’s police departments — and it hinges on the proper use of deadly force. Officers are supposed to use lethal force only when they feel their lives are in danger or the suspect is endangering other lives.

Consider that videos show that the officers spoke calmly with a cooperative Brooks for more than 20 minutes before administering a Breathalyzer that Brooks apparently failed. As officers were trying to handcuff Brooks, he resisted. One of the officers dislodged his Taser, which Brooks grabbed and ran off with. Disturbing video shows Rolfe giving chase, and after Brooks pointed the Taser at the officers, Rolfe fired three shots.

It seems reasonable that officers could have caught up with a reportedly drunken Brooks on foot, chased him by car or searched for him — anything but shooting him in the back.

Communities have started a deep and necessary examination of their police departments’ policies and procedures. There is much work to do among those in law enforcement and city governments to make improvements and create confidence among residents that police abuse will not be tolerated.

We also know that no matter the policy reforms, much of the tough work that police officers do will call upon their best judgment. It’s fair to say that even when deadly force is allowed, it doesn’t mean officers should always use it.

We can’t help but believe that Rayshard Brooks did not have to die.


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