At site of Atlanta protest, burned-out Wendy’s, people helpful but frustrated

People began showing up at Wendy's on University Avenue Sunday morning, June 14, 2020. Some helped with cleanup, some came to look, and some began placing flowers and created a memorial. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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People began showing up at Wendy's on University Avenue Sunday morning, June 14, 2020. Some helped with cleanup, some came to look, and some began placing flowers and created a memorial. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Dozens of people gathered outside the smoldering hulk of the University Avenue Wendy’s on Sunday morning.

Many were moved by the death of Rayshard Brooks, a black man who died after being shot by a white police officer in the restaurant's parking lot Friday night.  Many came bearing flowers for an impromptu memorial. Others came to help clean up after the restaurant had been set ablaze amid a protest Saturday night.

“The brother was running away,” said a dismayed Bo Rodney, 54. “Deadly force was not necessary.”

Rodney’s view on the fatal shooting was the prevailing sentiment among the people gathered there at the beginning of a second day of protests over the killing of another black man by police.

“We have so much anxiety and anger because of what white folks do to us on the daily,” said Rodney, who lives in the nearby Peoplestown neighborhood. “That could have been me.”

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Bo Rodney came to the scene as people began showing up at Wendy's Sunday morning, June 14, 2020, after it was burned down the night before. Some helped with cleanup, some came to look, and some began placing flowers and created a memorial to the man who died after being shot by police at the site Friday night.(Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Bo Rodney came to the scene as people began showing up at Wendy's Sunday morning, June 14, 2020, after it was burned down the night before. Some helped with cleanup, some came to look, and some began placing flowers and created a memorial to the man who died after being shot by police at the site Friday night.(Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Bo Rodney came to the scene as people began showing up at Wendy's Sunday morning, June 14, 2020, after it was burned down the night before. Some helped with cleanup, some came to look, and some began placing flowers and created a memorial to the man who died after being shot by police at the site Friday night.(Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

People clutched Black Lives Matters posters and took turns at a bullhorn, calling for change. People drove by, honking in support.

“People all over the place want their feelings heard,” said Ronald Williams, who lives in downtown Atlanta, a city that for him is one of the best places for a black person to live. The protests that he has been attending aren’t so much about this city, he said, though this latest death may change that.

“I can understand the police needing to protect themselves, but this wasn’t even a protection situation,” he said.

Tempers flared when a young man spray-painted a bit of wall that was still standing. He had written “Whose next?”

Eva Snow, who lives in the neighborhood and often ate at the restaurant, yelled at him to stop, deeming it disrespectful. Others defended him, reasoning that the building was already wrecked and would be torn down anyway. Let him express himself, they said.

Snow admitted she was conflicted about what happened to the restaurant. She blamed the fire on white supremacists, saying she knows people who saw white people igniting it. Yet Wendy’s had it coming, she added, because she said they chose to open Saturday despite the spilling of blood in their parking lot hours earlier.

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Eva Snow and Joseth Jett hug after Jett spray-painted over the top of graffiti from the night before and painted RIP Rayshard. People began showing up at Wendy's on University Avenue Sunday morning, June 14, 2020. Some helped with cleanup, some came to look, and some began placing flowers and created a memorial. On Saturday, protesters set fire to the Atlanta Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Atlanta police Friday evening during a struggle at a Wendy's drive-thru line. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Eva Snow and Joseth Jett hug after Jett spray-painted over the top of graffiti from the night before and painted RIP Rayshard. People began showing up at Wendy's on University Avenue Sunday morning, June 14, 2020.  Some helped with cleanup, some came to look, and some began placing flowers and created a memorial.  On Saturday, protesters set fire to the Atlanta Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man,  was shot and killed by Atlanta police Friday evening during a struggle at a Wendy's drive-thru line. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Eva Snow and Joseth Jett hug after Jett spray-painted over the top of graffiti from the night before and painted RIP Rayshard. People began showing up at Wendy's on University Avenue Sunday morning, June 14, 2020. Some helped with cleanup, some came to look, and some began placing flowers and created a memorial. On Saturday, protesters set fire to the Atlanta Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Atlanta police Friday evening during a struggle at a Wendy's drive-thru line. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“I’m angry and I’m not angry,” she said of the fire. “They should not have opened.”

Among the crowd were several Atlanta City Council members dressed in shorts, jeans and other casual clothes because they said they’d come to help clean up.

» RELATED: $10,000 reward offered for info on arson suspects

The situation did not have to escalate to violence, said Joyce Sheperd, the council member who represents the area.

Police were called to the scene with a complaint that Brooks had fallen asleep behind the wheel, blocking the restaurant's drive-thru lane. Brooks, 27, had nearly a half-hour of conversation with officers, when he answered their questions about where he'd been Friday night and what he'd been drinking, according to videos, including from policy body cameras.

When two officers tried to cuff him, Brooks struggled, then snatched one of their Tasers and ran off with it, according to GBI investigators. He was shot seconds later.

The officers should not have allowed the situation to escalate, Sheperd said.

“The choice was: Do I lock him up because he’s drunk or do I say why don’t you park your car and get over it,” she said.

They should have let him sleep it off or let him walk home if he lived nearby, she said, or they should have called someone to pick him up.

» PHOTOS: More from the cleanup, memorial

Officer Garrett Rolfe, also 27, was terminated while officer Devin Brosnan has been placed on administrative duty, an Atlanta police spokesman, Sgt. John Chafee, said in a brief statement Sunday. At a Saturday press conference, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the resignation of Chief Erika Shields.

Sheperd said she likes Shields but thinks that under the circumstances she had to go.

Sheperd was thinking of both the death of Brooks and the rough arrests of two young black people during a curfew crackdown amid a downtown protest last month. That incident resulted in criminal charges against a half-dozen officers.

“Too many cases,” Sheperd said, adding that the problem is much bigger than Shields or even policing. Racist culture is the problem, she said.

Councilman Antonio Brown believes Shields shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. He tweeted that the City Council and the mayor were equally responsible “for the unarmed black lives lost to police brutality.”

He elaborated outside the Wendy’s on Sunday: “Everyone’s a little upset with me because I posted if she resigns we should all resign,” he said.

Brown represents a part of Atlanta west of downtown and wants more foot and bike patrols because he thinks officers need to be among the people, developing relationships with them.

“We’re never going to move forward if we don’t do that,” he said.

Some saw the removal of Shields as a purely symbolic act.

It changes nothing, though it makes sense politically, since it might avert violent protest, said Joe Mitchell, a schoolteacher who drove through several counties from his home in Lithia Springs to see the Wendy’s for himself.

He stopped in on the protest, then pulled out a plastic bag and donned rubber gloves, and started collecting garbage along University Avenue.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Atlanta protests 

Keeping neighborhoods clean is something he does as part of a group from his days at the University of West Virginia, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

“Even though I don’t live in this community, black people live in this community and I’m black,” he said.

Mitchell said the path to reducing police violence against black people is through compassion and empathy. He said cops need to understand the people in the communities they are sworn to protect, adding that bigger protests are likely to result from this latest killing.

Rodney, the Peoplestown resident, said he thinks white officers are too ready to draw a gun on black men because they fear them. It’s driven by racism and a fear of retribution that has lingered since the days of slavery, he added.

He pointed inside the charred remains of the restaurant, at a wisp of smoke rising from a hidden source of fuel.

“We’ve got to put that out once and for all,” he said. “This is way overdue.”

He wasn’t talking about the restaurant fire.