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Crews raze Wendy’s where police killed Brooks, few there to see it

The Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta police last month was torn down on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Construction crews used an excavator to demolish the charred remains of the University Avenue restaurant. It is not clear who ordered Tuesday’s demolition, which comes a little more than a week after demonstrators who had camped out at the site following Brooks’ death were forced off the property. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
The Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta police last month was torn down on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Construction crews used an excavator to demolish the charred remains of the University Avenue restaurant. It is not clear who ordered Tuesday’s demolition, which comes a little more than a week after demonstrators who had camped out at the site following Brooks’ death were forced off the property. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

The sound of a balloon flapping in the wind with the message “You’re so special!” was overpowered Tuesday by excavators and backhoes demolishing a charred Wendy’s restaurant that had become a symbol of Atlanta’s civil unrest.

The balloon was for Rayshard Brooks, the 27-year-old father shot and killed by a now-fired Atlanta police officer.

The killing set off intense protests against race-based police violence, while the burned-out restaurant became a gathering place for demonstrators — some of whom armed themselves and threatened others while occupying the site for days on end.

The occupation ended July 4, when 8-year-old Secoriea Turner was shot and killed across the street from the restaurant while riding in the back seat of a vehicle with her mother.


READ | Brooks killing site 'festers' after police allow armed occupation


Two days later, the city cleared the property and forced protesters off the site at University Avenue and Pryor Road.

Secoriea will be buried Wednesday.

“My prayers remain with the Brooks and Turner families. It is my hope that today is another meaningful step in the journey of healing for the entire community,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a written statement Tuesday.

A Wendy’s spokesperson wrote in an email that the building would be razed “in a thoughtful way, with safety as the priority and in cooperation with city officials.”

It is not known what will become of the property, and the Wendy’s spokesperson did not respond when asked about future plans for the site.

“The demolition of the building and any future decisions regarding the property are that of the owner’s — not the city,” said a spokesman for the mayor.

Protesters who have rallied around the Wendy’s want the private property to become a community center honoring Brooks.

Khalid Kamau, a member of the South Fulton City Council, was coming to visit the site Tuesday only to find it had been demolished. He said he was disappointed the public wasn’t notified of the teardown, in case people wanted to have a moment of closure at the lot.

“Demolishing this structure is not going to demolish the movement started here to re-imagine policing in Atlanta,” said Kamau.

Crews were seen tearing the building down Tuesday morning.
Crews were seen tearing the building down Tuesday morning.

Credit: JOHN SPINK/ JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK/ JSPINK@AJC.COM

Two days after Secoriea was killed, the Atlanta City Council approved several police reform measures, including a ban on chokeholds and expansion of the citizen review board’s powers.

Considering it has been the site of an incident that spurred so much widespread outrage, few were there to witness the demolition. But 17-year-old Derante Wilkins, a recent Carver High School graduate, said he was walking around when he stumbled upon it.

With temperatures already well into the 80s by 9:30 a.m., Wilkins bought some Moose Tracks ice cream and an orange Fanta and sat down outside a package store across the street to get a view. Looking past the store’s parking lot where Secoriea was shot, Wilkins batted flies away as he watched the building come down.

He said he’s worried the demolition will stir up protests again. When asked about solutions, the teen said he wishes officers had more medical training in case they use violence.

The scene was oddly quiet Tuesday compared to how it’s been since June 12, when ex-cop Garrett Rolfe shot Brooks in the back. Brooks was being interrogated for suspected DUI after falling asleep in the drive-through line at the restaurant. A struggle broke out as officers tried to place Brooks under arrest. He ran away with an officer’s Taser and fired the device toward officers as he ran, just before Rolfe shot him.


READ | Mourners pray, cops seek answers in 8-year-old's shooting death


Less than 24 hours later, police say a woman who knew Brooks, Natalie Hanna White, used a lighter and some sort of can to burn the restaurant. She has been charged with first-degree arson but is out on bond. Rolfe has been charged with felony murder and is also out on bond.

The site has hosted peaceful protests, but armed occupiers at the Wendy’s also threatened people.

Secoriea was riding in a SUV with her mother when they exited onto University Avenue shortly before 10 p.m. on July 4, police said. Protesters were holding a block party. When the car in which Secoriea was riding tried to turn into the package store parking lot, they were confronted by a “group of armed individuals who had blocked the entrance,” investigators said. As many as four armed civilians shot into the SUV, police said.

Mawuli Davis, an attorney representing the family, said the reward for information leading to arrest and conviction is $50,000. He said the family spent Tuesday receiving condolences from visitors to their home.

Vicki Lynn Buckley-Ameen with an image of Rayshard Brooks in her front windshield lamented what had happened at Wendy’ss as she watched the demolition on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. The Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta police last month was torn down. Construction crews used an excavator to demolish the charred remains of the University Avenue restaurant. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Vicki Lynn Buckley-Ameen with an image of Rayshard Brooks in her front windshield lamented what had happened at Wendy’ss as she watched the demolition on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. The Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta police last month was torn down. Construction crews used an excavator to demolish the charred remains of the University Avenue restaurant. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Many questioned why the occupiers were allowed to stay at the Wendy’s site.

Bottoms said during an AJC editorial board meeting last week that police had planned to shut down the site weeks before the shooting. But the mayor said she allowed Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd more time to negotiate with demonstrators. Organizers want to turn the private property into a community center honoring Brooks — a demand city officials could not fulfill.

Looking at the site Tuesday, Vicki Lynn Buckley-Ameen said she has been coming there to protest since Brooks was killed. The 57-year-old was also present the night Secoriea was killed.

“God’s going to get them,” she said of Secoriea’s killers. “That’s not how you be a warrior.”

Credit: AJC

Video: John Spink, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: AJC