Rain aside, hundreds pay respect to Rayshard Brooks at historic church

Several hundred people flowed steadily through Ebenezer Baptist Church Monday afternoon during a public viewing for Rayshard Brooks.

Brooks, a black man, was shot to death on June 12 by a white Atlanta Police Department officer following an encounter at a Wendy’s on the city’s south side.

Mourners came from as far as Seattle to pay their respects. A private funeral will take place at the church beginning at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

MORE: Photos during the visitation 

ExploreProminent figures mourn Rayshard Brooks

“I’m here to bear witness as a minister and a person of faith,” said Jessica Derise, a white chaplain and pastor on an extended stay in metro Atlanta due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We have another black man that was murdered mindlessly. Showing up matters to people — especially as a person who has less at stake than people of color.”

A Wendy’s employee called police the night of June 12 to alert them to a sleeping man, possibly drunk, holding up the line at the restaurant on University Avenue in the Peoplestown neighborhood. Officer Devin Brosnan, the first to arrive at the restaurant, woke Brooks, had the man move his car out of the drive-thru line and began conversations, along with Officer Garrett Rolfe, that lasted the larger part of 40 minutes.

The men struggled after Rolfe tried putting Brooks into handcuffs, with Brooks retrieving a Taser from one of the officers and running through the parking lot. Brooks was shot twice while fleeing, apparently after he turned and pointed the Taser at the officers who gave chase. He suffered organ damage and blood loss from two gunshot wounds and died from gunshot wounds of the back, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office determined.

IN-DEPTH COVERAGE: Rayshard Brooks' final 41 minutes

Rolfe and Brosnan have been charged in connection with Brooks’ death, with Rolfe charged with felony murder and various charges of aggravated assault, violating the oath of office and damage to property. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violating the oath of office.

AJC EXCLUSIVE: Officer Devin Brosnan: 'The truth will come out'

Brooks’ death has sparked widespread protesting in Atlanta, on the heels of protests already taking place against police brutality after George Floyd was killed May 25 in Minneapolis, after a police officer there held his knee to Floyd’s neck nearly 9 minutes. Floyd is black; The officer, since fired, charged in his death is white.

Inside Ebenezer on Monday, a violinist played various gospel and secular selections as mourners entered the chapel. All wore masks, a reminder of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Tomika Miller, Brooks’ widow, had a moment with her husband at the start of the four-hour viewing, standing at the open casket for a prolonged period. Both wore white with gold details. Brooks’ casket also was gold, with black trim.

Outside the church, Mourners sparked conversations on what it will take before white police officers place as much value on black lives as they do their own.

“They won’t even stop killing people when you’re filming,” Elizabeth Taylor of Flint, Michigan, said while sitting before the viewing began. “Black lives matter. It’s such a cliche, but it’s not.”

Alice Madden of Atlanta, sitting outside the church with Taylor and Deborah Leggin, said she worries every time one of her black male children and grandchildren leave the house. She’s been extra protective over a grandson who recently turned 18.

“He wants to go out and hang with his friends,” she said. “Every time he leaves the house, I’m afraid he’s going to get stopped by the police. That’s the fear of a black mother, where you don’t know if they’re going to come home.”

Rain fell sporadically throughout the afternoon, likely affecting the turnout. The crowd picked up just after 5 p.m., a sign that people likely were coming from work, as many companies have called employees back to the office after months away.

Early Monday afternoon, the streets around the church were buzzing ahead of the public viewing. Vendors sold shirts with “Black Lives Matter” and images of black people killed in recent years during police encounters. A man on a megaphone recited Brooks’ name and date of death.

Across the street, retired law enforcement officer Bruce W. Griggs struggled to hold up an 8-foot card for people to sign condolences to Rayshard Brooks’ family. Inside, the card read, “Thinking of your family and wishing you all comfort and peace.”

Griggs said people signed the card at the Wendy’s on University Avenue in south Atlanta the day after Brooks was shot to death, again this past weekend and today across from the church.

“I care about the family of Rayshard Brooks,” Griggs said. “I care about for family of future Rayshard Brookses out here.”

Griggs said his organization, Operation Correct Start of America Inc., has put together oversized condolence cards for prominent residents and gun violence victims, going back to Maynard Jackson after the former Atlanta mayor died in 2003.

Griggs said he was optimistic after seeing the energy from a new generation of activists in recent weeks as people took to the streets to fight injustice and police brutality.

“I’m glad to see them out there,” he said. “I’m 60 years old. I can’t get out there anymore.”

He said the result so far has been promising, despite property damage that has resulted.

“You can’t get change unless you stir up the pot.”