Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 October 2020

Atlanta mayor orders police reforms after Rayshard Brooks killing

Family calls for “drastic change” in policing

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed executive orders on police reform after the death of Rayshard Brooks, a black man killed by a white police officer on Friday.

The reforms announced on Monday address the use of deadly force by Atlanta officers and their response to resistance from those they are arresting.

"Our police officers are to be guardians and not warriors within our communities," Ms Bottoms said.

A "duty to intervene" policy will be adopted to ensure all officers must intercede and prevent the use of deadly force by fellow police.

"I am also requiring de-escalation generally, and specifically prior to the use of force," Ms Bottoms said.

The reforms aim to ensure that officers "avoid or minimise the use of physical force".

She also announced restrictions on when an officer can use deadly force towards a suspect in a moving vehicle.

Ms Bottoms said she did not believe the Brooks shooting was a justified use of deadly force.

She called on the Atlanta police department to immediately adopt and introduce reforms to their standard procedures.

Nineteen Atlanta police officers have resigned over the past 10 days, the Atlanta Police Foundation said.

"Morale is at an all-time low," a representative told WSB TV.

Ms Bottoms said: "We understand in Atlanta, and across the nation, that this is the beginning of a great deal of work to make sure that we are doing all we can do to protect our communities."

The disciplinary record for the officer who shot Mr Brooks was released on Monday.

Officer Garrett Rolfe had been issued a written reprimand for a complaint about use of force involving a firearm in 2017.

Mr Brooks' death was deemed a homicide caused by gunshot wounds to the back, the Fulton County Medical Examiner's office said on Sunday.

A post-mortem examination showed that Mr Brooks, 27, died from blood loss and organ injuries caused by two gunshot wounds, an investigator said.

Mr Brooks's family has called for “drastic change” in policing and justice for their relative.

“We’re tired and we are frustrated. Most importantly we’re heartbroken, so we need justice for Rayshard Brooks,” his cousin, Tiara Brooks, said on Monday.

“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."

Mr Brooks's death reignited protests in Atlanta after days of worldwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality prompted by the death of George Floyd, an African-American man, in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.

Mr Brooks's fatal encounter with police came after an employee of a Wendy's restaurant in Atlanta phoned authorities to say that someone had fallen asleep in his car in the restaurant's drive-through lane.

In a 911 call released on Monday, a Wendy’s employee told the operator that a man she thought was intoxicated had parked his vehicle in the drive-through lane, blocking other cars.

The employee told the dispatcher she went to his window.

“He woke up, looked at me and I was like ‘you’ve got to move out the drive-through’ because people can’t – they’re going around him, he’s in the middle of the drive-through just right there,” she said, according to the audio.

The dispatcher asked the caller if she thought the man had a weapon.

“No, no. I think he’s intoxicated,” she said.

Caught on an officer's body camera and a surveillance camera, Mr Brooks' encounter with police seemed friendly at first, as he co-operated with a sobriety test and talked about his daughter's birthday.

"I watched the interaction with Mr Brooks and it broke my heart," Ms Bottoms said. "This was not confrontational. This was a guy that you were rooting for."

But when an officer moved to arrest him, Mr Brooks fought him and another officer at the scene before breaking free and running across the parking lot with what appears to be a police Taser in his hand, a bystander's video showed.

A video from the restaurant’s cameras shows Mr Brooks turning as he runs and possibly aiming the Taser at the pursuing officers before one of them fires his gun and Mr Brooks falls.

Atlanta's police chief, Erika Shields, resigned over the shooting.

The officer who killed Mr Brooks was dismissed, and the other officer, also white, was put on administrative leave.

The Wendy's restaurant went up in flames as demonstrators in Atlanta took to the streets and chanted for the officers to be charged, at one point late on Saturday blocking traffic on a nearby interstate motorway.

On Sunday, police offered a $10,000 (Dh36,725) reward and published photos of what appeared to be a masked white woman being sought in connection with the arson case.

Police said they were seeking those responsible for the blaze, including a woman who was "attempting to hide her identity".

The department posted photos on social media of what looked to be a young white woman wearing a black baseball cap and face mask, and a video clip filmed by a protester that appeared to show a woman encouraging the flames.

"Look at the white girl trying to burn down the Wendy's," the man recording the video can be heard saying. "This wasn't us."

Lawyers for Mr Brooks's family said he was the father of a young daughter who was celebrating her birthday on Saturday.

They said the officers had no right to use deadly force even if he had fired the Taser, a non-lethal weapon, in their direction.

Prosecutors will decide by midweek whether to bring charges, Fulton County district attorney Paul Howard said on Sunday.

"He did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone, and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable," Mr Howard said.

Actor Tyler Perry announced that he would pay for Mr Brooks's funeral.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are on the brink of introducing an extensive package of policing changes with new restrictions on police choke holds and other practices as Congress rushes to respond to mass demonstrations over the deaths of Mr Floyd, Mr Brooks, and other black Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened the chamber Monday declaring that Senate Republicans are developing “a serious proposal to reform law enforcement.”

While the emerging package isn’t as extensive as the sweeping Democratic proposal, which is headed for a House vote next week, it is perhaps the most far-reaching proposed changes to policing procedures from the party long aligned with a “law and order” approach. Confronted with a groundswell of public unrest over police violence, in cities large and small nationwide, even the most conservative senators are joining the effort.

Updated: June 17, 2020 12:05 AM

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