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On Sunday a group of peaceful protesters gathered at the site where Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot in Atlanta on Friday.CreditCredit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times
The district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., has said he will make a decision by midweek on whether to file criminal charges in the fatal police shooting of an African-American man outside a Wendy’s restaurant on Friday night, the latest killing to stir outrage over a long history of deadly violence by the police against African-Americans.
The shooting of the man, Rayshard Brooks, 27, by a white police officer came at a time when protesters have taken to the streets in cities around the country to demand changes in police practices, the downsizing of police departments, and a reckoning with racism in many sectors of society.
Mr. Brooks’s killing set off a fresh wave of the questioning and anger that has roiled the nation since the death of George Floyd, and the response from political leaders has been unusually swift, as they sought to head off a potentially explosive reaction from protesters.
Less than 24 hours after Mr. Brooks was shot, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta announced that the city’s police chief had resigned. On Sunday, a spokesman for the police department said that the officer who shot Mr. Brooks had been fired.
The encounter outside the restaurant was captured on eyewitness videos, police body-camera footage and security camera footage.
The police were called to the scene on Friday night because Mr. Brooks had fallen asleep in his car on the restaurant’s drive-through line. Mr. Brooks was awakened and given a sobriety test, which he failed.
After two police officers had been on the scene for 27 minutes, much of that time talking with Mr. Brooks, one of the officers, Garrett Rolfe, attempted to handcuff him, leading to a struggle. The officers tried to stun Mr. Brooks with Tasers, and Mr. Brooks grabbed one of their Tasers and ran away, with Officer Rolfe in pursuit. Mr. Brooks turned at one point to fire the Taser back in Officer Rolfe’s direction; Officer Rolfe then pulled out his handgun and fired at Mr. Brooks three times as he was running away.
The Fulton County medical examiner’s office confirmed on Sunday that Mr. Brooks’s death was a homicide and that the cause of death was “gunshot wounds of the back.” The office’s statement said he had been hit by two shots in the back, causing “organ injuries and blood loss.”
The district attorney, Paul Howard, told CNN that the possible charges against Officer Rolfe included murder, felony murder and involuntary manslaughter. Mr. Howard said he would decide which, if any, charges to bring by midweek. (Felony murder refers to a homicide committed while committing another felony.)
“He did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone,” Mr. Howard said of Mr. Brooks, “and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable.”
‘When Does This Stop?’ Family of Rayshard Brooks Speaks Out
The family of Rayshard Brooks held a news conference in response to his killing, the latest to stir outrage over deadly violence by the police against African-Americans.
“On June 12, one of our biggest fears became our reality. Not only did we lose another black, unarmed male, this time it landed on our front doorstep. Not only are we hurt, we are angry. When does this stop? We’re not only pleading for justice, we’re pleading for change.” “Rayshard Brooks, the name that may start a protest tomorrow or another day in the future. However, the man himself no longer has a future. He can no longer live in the present nor plan for tomorrow. How many more protests will it take — to ensure that the next victim isn’t your cousin, your brother, your uncle, your nephew, your friend or your companion — so that we can finally end the suffering of police excessive force?”
The family of Rayshard Brooks held a news conference in response to his killing, the latest to stir outrage over deadly violence by the police against African-Americans.CreditCredit…Dustin Chambers/Getty Images
In an emotional news conference, the family of Rayshard Brooks, who was shot and killed on Saturday by an Atlanta police officer, attempted to describe how the sense of loss and injustice that they had seen tear through other African-American families was now affecting their own.
“Not only did we lose another black, unarmed male,” said Chassidy Evans, a niece of Mr. Brooks. “This time, it landed on our doorstep.”
Ms. Evans said she had watched in disbelief three weeks ago as protesters swarmed downtown Atlanta, vandalizing buildings and setting a police vehicle on fire. At the time, she said, she had defended the Atlanta police, saying that while the anger of the demonstrators over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis was legitimate, the Atlanta police were not to blame.
“This doesn’t happen here — leave them alone,” Ms. Evans recalled thinking, standing before a bank of cameras in a lawyer’s office to represent her family, including Mr. Brooks’s wife, his three young daughters, and cousins and other relatives.
“Here we are, three weeks later,” she told reporters, “those same police took something away from my family we will never get back: Rayshard Brooks.”
The family said that they believed his death had been avoidable, and that their loss, like those of other families of people killed by the police, should be an impetus for systemic change.
“My uncle did not die in vain,” Ms. Evans said. “His life mattered. George Floyd’s life mattered. Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. Michael Brown’s life mattered. Sandra Bland’s life mattered. I’m not only asking the city of Atlanta to stand with us. I’m asking for everyone in this nation to stand with us as we seek justice for Rayshard.”
The doctrine, known as qualified immunity, has been attacked from across the political spectrum.Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times
A widely criticized legal doctrine that makes it hard to sue police officers for misconduct was left in place for now by the Supreme Court on Monday, when the justices declined to hear appeals in a number of cases on the issue.
The doctrine, known as qualified immunity, has been attacked from across the political spectrum. Justice Clarence Thomas, probably the court’s most conservative member, has written that it was created out of thin air, while Justice Sonia Sotomayor, probably the most liberal of the justices, has written that it created an impenetrable legal barrier protecting the police from accountability.
A federal civil rights law known as Section 1983 allows citizens to sue government officials, including police officers, over violations of constitutional rights. But in a series of decisions over decades, the Supreme Court has read limitations into the law, saying that officials are liable only if the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the conduct in question.
And by “clearly established,” the court has meant something very narrow: There had to be a previous court decision involving nearly identical factual circumstances. That’s an almost impossible hurdle to clear in most cases.
A recent Reuters investigation found that the Supreme Court’s decisions on qualified immunity have made it increasingly difficult for plaintiffs to win cases accusing police officers of using excessive force.
The New York police commissioner announced on Monday that he was disbanding the Police Department’s anti-crime unit, a team of hundreds of plainclothes officers who focus on violent crime. Officers from the unit have been involved in some of the city’s most notorious police shootings.
“This is 21st-century policing,” the commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said at a news conference. “We must do it in a manner that builds trust between the officers and the community they serve.”
Roughly 600 officers served in the plainclothes unit, which worked out of the department’s 77 precincts. The officers will immediately be reassigned to other duties, Mr. Shea said, including the department’s detective bureau and neighborhood policing initiative.
The unexpected announcement came after weeks of protests and public unrest across the country over police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mr. Shea have been under pressure from protesters to reduce the size of the New York Police Department and shift resources into social programs. The City Council speaker has proposed slashing the department’s $6 billion budget by $1 billion.
The sweeping reorganization reflects national calls to “defund the police” as well as long-simmering rancor in the city over policing tactics. The Police Department is already undergoing a court-ordered overhaul, overseen by the U.S. Justice Department, after documented cases of excessive force by police officers.
Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement that the new safety department will operate alongside the city’s police and fire departments. Mr. Keller, a Democrat, said his administration would work with residents and members of the City Council over the next two months to map out details of the new department, “which will reallocate millions of dollars.”
The initiative will give 911 dispatchers a new option: A “community safety response” can be sent to de-escalate a situation, instead of involving police officers or firefighters. The new department is expected to respond to calls related to homelessness, addiction and mental health.
Chief Mike Geier of the Albuquerque Police said he supported the reorganization. “Civilian expertise can make all the difference in resolving problems without the threat of arrest,” Chief Geier said.
The police have been criticized this month over the handling of a 911 call from the parents of a mentally unstable man, asking that their son be taken to a hospital for treatment. During the episode, an officer shot the 26-year-old man, Max Mitnik, wounding him in the head. The police claimed that Mr. Mitnik, who is now hospitalized in stable condition, came at them with a knife.
The attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, announced a series of recommended measures for police forces in the state, including banning chokeholds, requiring officers to intervene when colleagues use excessive force, and forbidding officers from firing shots at moving vehicles or from them, with rare exceptions.
“Here in California, we aim to lead and push ahead,” he said in an online news conference.
Mr. Becerra also said his office would send investigators to Palmdale, Calif., to look into the death of Robert Fuller, a young black man found hanged from a tree near City Hall, and to assist local authorities with the case. Mr. Fuller’s death was initially ruled a suicide, but relatives have questioned the conclusion, which quickly drew questions and outcry from community members.
Mr. Becerra did not say whether his office was looking into the death of Malcolm Harsch, a black man found hanged in Victorville. Mr. Harsch’s family has said it is worried his death will also be ruled a suicide.
Many of the recommended changes in policing, Mr. Becerra said, were laid out in a report examining the training and policies of the Sacramento Police Department following the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by police officers in his grandmother’s backyard. The officers never faced charges.
Some of the changes will become mandatory in January, when new laws that have already been passed take effect. Others — like creating a process to decertify police officers for serious misconduct and laying out restrictions on the use of tear gas or rubber bullets in controlling crowds — will require collaboration with lawmakers, Mr. Becerra said, adding that he hoped cities and law enforcement agencies would move forward voluntarily even if they meet resistance from police officials and unions.
Activists have said that overhaul plans announced in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other large cities have not gone nearly far enough to remake a fundamentally broken public safety system. Many departments already have many of the recommended policies in place, they say, but officers there continue to kill people.
More than 50 progressive grass-roots groups have signed a letter to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., criticizing his response to the wave of protests over police brutality and criminal justice and saying his proposal to increase spending on a community policing program is “not the answer.”
Mr. Biden’s campaign platform calls for $300 million in additional money for the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, which he helped create as a senator in 1994. He repeated that proposal as recently as last week. But in their letter, the organizations say Mr. Biden is wrong to push for more federal spending on police departments.
“The COPS program has directly contributed to the increased size and scope of policing in cities across the country, and the subsequent stream of violence and killings perpetrated by law enforcement on Black people in particular,” the letter says.
The groups signing the letter include the Center for Popular Democracy Action, the Working Families Party, the Sunrise Movement and Black Voters Matter.
The groups are asking Mr. Biden to embrace more sweeping proposals outlined by the Movement for Black Lives, like diverting money from police departments to programs that support education, housing and environmental justice. The groups framed their requests as an imperative for Mr. Biden to motivate black voters.
Strong backing from black primary voters propelled Mr. Biden to the Democratic presidential nomination this year, but general-election polling has shown Mr. Biden attracting less black support than Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 election.
“You cannot win the election without the enthusiastic support of Black voters,” the letter to Mr. Biden said. “How you act in this moment of crisis will play a big role in determining how Black voters — and all voters concerned with racial justice — respond to your candidacy. A ‘return to normalcy’ will not suffice.”
In a sign of the rage over police killings that is boiling around the country, a nonlethal encounter early Monday morning between the police and a black teenager in St. Cloud, Minn., quickly stirred rumors of a fatal shooting and a heated protest.
The episode began shortly after midnight, according to the St. Cloud police, when two officers saw reports on social media about a person with a firearm outside a local business. The officers confronted the person, an 18-year-old black man.
He tried to flee, the police said, and in a struggle that followed, the young man shot one of the officers in the hand. Both the officer and the young man were taken to the hospital; the young man had what the police chief, William Blair Anderson, described as minor injuries.
Reports quickly spread on social media that the encounter had ended very differently, though — with the police shooting and killing a black teenager. Within hours, a crowd of about 100 people had gathered and was headed for the police station.
Chief Anderson said at a news conference on Monday that the police understood that the crowd, acting on “misinformation, bad information, or just flat-out lies,” intended to take over the station. He said officers used tear gas to disperse the group, but that several buildings, including the station, were damaged. Four people were arrested on minor charges, he said.
As the protest flared, officials raced to set the story straight, sending out a news release and calling community leaders to say there had been no killing.
At the news conference on Monday, the mayor, Dave Kleis, said there had been a lot of “dangerous” misinformation on social media. He and Chief Anderson tried to turn the story into a positive one for the Police Department, arguing that the officers’ handling of the incident showed their restraint and professionalism.
“This is one of those situations that could have gone markedly different,” Chief Anderson said, suggesting that it was a case in which an officer could permissibly have used deadly force.
“You want to see what good policing looks like?” he said. “You want to see what community policing looks like? You want to see what community engagement looks like? Come to St. Cloud, and we’ll show you.”
An N.A.A.C.P. march that sent hundreds of people into the streets of downtown Atlanta on Monday was originally planned to focus on the collapse of Georgia’s statewide voting system last week, forcing some people to wait in lines for more than four hours to vote.
But then came Friday night, and the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks. That turned the march into a protest not only about impediments to voting, but also about the treatment of black people at the hands of the police. Signs in the crowd read “They steal elections,” “End voter suppression” and “Defund police.”
The twin themes were sounded repeatedly. Lloyd Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, the city’s N.B.A. franchise, spoke at a morning rally about his pride in being black. Mr. Pierce said he would die a black man, “but I don’t want to die because I’m a black man.”
Wanda Mosley, of the advocacy group Black Voters Matter, accused the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, of failing to act to fix known problems with Georgia’s new $107 million computerized voting system. “If you aren’t able to do your job, resign,” she said.
The peaceful morning march to the State Capitol stood in contrast to the looting that broke out in some places over the weekend, most notably at the Wendy’s restaurant where Mr. Brooks was killed. The building was burned during protests on Saturday night.
Through the weekend, other locations in Atlanta were tense as well, including a police precinct station in Grant Park, a historic residential neighborhood south of downtown. Scores of police officers in riot gear flowed in to protect the precinct station, and used tear gas to repel dozens of protesters on Saturday night.
When the marchers on Monday reached the State Capitol, they made a number of specific demands of legislators, including passage of a state hate-crimes law and repealing the state’s citizen’s arrest statute.
That statute was cited earlier this year by a district attorney in Waycross, Ga., who told the police in nearby Glynn County that insufficient probable cause existed to arrest the three white men who pursued an unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery, through the streets of their neighborhood before killing him.
The Kansas City police are investigating the vandalism of a historical marker about the lynching of a Missouri man, Levi Harrington, in 1882, a police spokesman said on Monday.
The blue and gold sign was removed from its signpost and tossed over a small wall and down a cliff, according to photos posted on social media and local news outlets. The police spokesman, Sgt. Jake Becchina, said that no one had reported the incident to the police, and that the investigation was begun after the department was alerted to the vandalism by news reports.
The sign was installed in 2018 by community leaders and the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, in West Terrace Park in Kansas City to memorialize Mr. Harrington.
The front of the marker relates how black residents were targeted after a police officer was fatally shot in the city on April 3, 1882. As Mr. Harrington traveled through the city that day, the police arrested him, even though they lacked evidence of any involvement by him in the shooting, the marker said.
“An angry white mob quickly formed and grew to several hundred people intent on lynching Mr. Harrington,” it said. The mob hanged Mr. Harrington from a beam of a bridge and shot him. “Although newspapers reported that Mr. Harrington was innocent of the accusations against him, no one was held accountable,” the sign concludes.
The reverse side gives a capsule history of lynching in the United States. Researchers for the Equal Justice Initiative have documented more than 4,000 lynchings between 1877 and 1950.
“We are in no way deterred from our commitment to helping communities confront the history of racial injustice represented by lynchings of black people by white mobs,” the group said in a statement on Monday. “That symbols designed to promote understanding and repair are targets of vandalism and violence just reinforces the need for this project.”
The sign and others like it have been vandalized before. Someone defaced the Kansas City marker with graffiti in 2019, and a sign just outside of Glendora, Miss., placed in memory of Emmett Till, has been repeatedly struck by gunfire.
The position of police chief, once prestigious, might be the most precarious high-profile job in America right now — particularly for chiefs whose mission is reform.
When Erika Shields resigned on Saturday as the Atlanta police chief in the wake of an officer-involved shooting of a black man, she joined a long and growing line of progressive, reform-minded police chiefs who have been fired or who have chosen to step down, often after high-profile episodes of police violence.
“You can do everything right, and have one officer one night do something, and all of a sudden your career is upside down,” said Chuck Wexler, the director of the Police Executive Research Foundation.
The foundation is often retained to help cities find police chiefs to hire, recently including Philadelphia and Baltimore, and even more recently, Louisville, where the chief was fired after two killings: Those of Breonna Taylor, a woman shot dead in her own home March 13 when officers burst in to execute a no-knock search warrant, and David McAtee, the owner of a popular barbecue stand who was killed in a shooting incident involving police officers on June 1 during protests in the city.
Chiefs must perform a high-wire act of retaining the respect of their officers, aligning with elected officials and giving the community genuine input into policy and operations, Mr. Wexler said. Often, pleasing one side means displeasing another. And now chiefs face fundamental questions over not just how they police, but why.
Even before the current moment of reckoning, police chiefs brought in to fix troubled departments often found themselves abruptly unemployed. Baltimore a
Reporting was contributed by Julia Carmel, Jill Cowan, Shaila Dewan, Richard Fausset, Astead W. Herndon, Adam Liptak, Rick Rojas, Simon Romero, Kate Taylor, Ali Watkins and Alan Yuhas.