062320 Atlanta: Rev. Raphael G. Warnock delivers the eulogy for Rayshard Brooks at his funeral in Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 in Atlanta. Brooks, 27, died June 12 after being shot by an officer in a Wendy’s parking lot. Brooks’ death sparked protests in Atlanta and around the country. Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer, said “Rayshard Brooks wasn’t just running from the police. He was running from a system that makes slaves out of people. A system that doesn’t give ordinary people who’ve made mistakes a second chance, a real shot at redemption.” Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/Curtis Compton
Photo: Curtis Compton/Curtis Compton

‘Today we have hope.’ Warnock's brother is released from prison

Shortly after Raphael Warnock delivered a eulogy at Rayshard Brooks’ funeral on Tuesday, calling the slain Black man the “latest high-profile casualty in the struggle for justice,” the reverend hopped in a car and headed for south Georgia. 

The reason, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate explained in an online discussion, was a joyous one: He was headed to the federal prison in Jesup to welcome his older brother Keith’s release.

Warnock has not shied away from speaking about Keith, a first-time offender who was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug-related offense in 1997.

Keith’s story has shaped Warnock’s views of the justice system, the reverend said, and made his demands for an overhaul “deeply personal.” 

Nor is he the first statewide candidate to talk openly of a sibling's struggles with the justice system. Stacey Abrams, one of Warnock's key supporters, spoke often of her brother Walter's drug addiction and stints in prison during her 2018 run for governor.

On Wednesday, though, Warnock surprised participants of the American Jewish Archives webinar with the news of Keith's release while explaining to the audience why he happened to be addressing them from a moving vehicle. 

Said Warnock: 

“We’ve been working hard for years - this is now his 22nd year - to get (Keith) out through various appeals. And, so far, we had not succeeded. We were dealing with the pandemic of racism. 

But then, interestingly, this other pandemic besets our nation now in recent months, and it’s created all kinds of conditions, mostly completely terrible. 

I’m in a car because this morning at 8 a.m., because of COVID-19, ironically, my brother who went to prison when he was 33 and is now 55 ... was released this morning ...

Warnock is one of 20 candidates challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the November special election, and he’s called for a “renewal and reform” of the criminal justice system as protests over race and equality focus attention on police brutality. 

In a statement, the pastor said during his time on the pulpit at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church that “it has become too common to counsel families grieving from unjust loss, like that of Rayshard Brooks, or to grieve from separation.” 

“I have known this pain personally, and my family has experienced it over the last 22 years of my brother’s incarceration,” he said. “Today he came home. Today we have hope.”

The Rev. Raphael Warnock and his brother Keith reunite.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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