Civil rights groups call for deescalation of Atlanta police response

Protesters gather on Saturday, June 13, 2020, at the Atlanta Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Atlanta police on Friday evening during a struggle in a Wendy's drive-thru line.  Hyosub Shin / hyosub.shin@ajc.com
Protesters gather on Saturday, June 13, 2020, at the Atlanta Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Atlanta police on Friday evening during a struggle in a Wendy's drive-thru line. Hyosub Shin / hyosub.shin@ajc.com

A coalition of civil rights groups in Georgia on Sunday called on authorities to deescalate their response to protests of racial injustice and the police shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.

A large protest at the Wendy's restaurant where Brooks was killed late Friday started peaceful but turned violent on Saturday night. The restaurant was torched, demonstrators shut down the Downtown Connector and police used tear gas and fired less-lethal projectiles to disburse the crowds.

June 13, 2020 - Atlanta - Wendy’s in flames, after demonstrators blocked the interstate and set it on fire. Protestors gather at University Ave. at 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 in a Wendy’s drive-thru line. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal Constitution
June 13, 2020 - Atlanta - Wendy’s in flames, after demonstrators blocked the interstate and set it on fire. Protestors gather at University Ave. at 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 in a Wendy’s drive-thru line. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Police said three dozen people were arrested Saturday night.

Leaders of the Georgia NAACP and JUST Georgia condemned the use of tear gas and other tactics against protesters who, they said, were exercising their First Amendment rights. Tiffany Roberts, a leader of JUST Georgia, said children were in attendance.

“For there to be such a cavalier utilization of these types of weapons against community members is an escalation of violence that is unnecessary,” Robert said.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Atlanta protests

The civil rights groups also called the resignation of Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields in the wake of Brooks’ death “symbolic” and demanded her complete separation from city employment.

Late Saturday afternoon, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced she had accepted Shields' resignation as chief, but Bottoms said Shields will remain with the city in a role to be determined.

PHOTOS: Protests, fire at Wendy’s Saturday night

The Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, called Shields’ continued employment unacceptable. He described Shields’ resignation and continued employment as a political move by Bottoms, who is reportedly being vetted as a potential running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Rayshard Brooks, the man killed by an Atlanta police officer at a Wendy’s Friday was the father of three girls and a had a stepson, his family said.
Rayshard Brooks, the man killed by an Atlanta police officer at a Wendy’s Friday was the father of three girls and a had a stepson, his family said.

“I want to be very clear that simple piecemeal solutions and symbolism just will not work,” Woodall said.

Spokespeople for Bottoms did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Friday night, police were called to the Wendy’s on University Avenue to a report of a man asleep in his car and blocking the drive-through window. Officers confronted Brooks, 27, who authorities said failed a field sobriety test.

A struggle broke out as police officers attempted to arrest Brooks and he resisted. Video shows Brooks wrestled a Taser away from officers and fled.

Restaurant surveillance video released late Saturday by the GBI shows Brooks running away and then turn and appear to fire the Taser at the pursuing officers when he is shot.

Tiffany Roberts, right, of JUST Georgia, and the Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, speak Sunday, May 31, 2020, at Liberty Plaza near the Georgia State Capitol at a press conference condemning the arrests of of Messiah Young and Teniyah Pilgrom. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STRUBEY@AJC.COM
Tiffany Roberts, right, of JUST Georgia, and the Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, speak Sunday, May 31, 2020, at Liberty Plaza near the Georgia State Capitol at a press conference condemning the arrests of of Messiah Young and Teniyah Pilgrom. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STRUBEY@AJC.COM

The officer who shot and killed Brooks has been identified as Garrett Rolfe. He was fired Saturday and a second officer at the scene was placed on administrative duty.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office are conducting investigations into the incident.

Roberts said the selection of a new police chief is an opportunity for cultural change within the department. Roberts is a member of a city task force to review police use of force, but Roberts said was speaking on behalf of her organization and not the task force.

On Monday, the Georgia NAACP will hold a march to the State Capitol and demonstration as the General Assembly reconvenes after adjourning for the coronavirus pandemic.

Civil rights groups are calling for a number of criminal justice changes, including passage of a hate crimes bill and an end to citizens’ arrest laws.

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