After fatal shooting, Atlanta mayor commits to police reform

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms vows to change police use-of-force policies and emphasize deescalation in training after Rayshard Brooks was killed by police this week. More police departments nationwide and Congress are introducing reform proposals.

Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
Georgia Rep. Erica Thomas spoke at the NAACP March to the Capitol on June 15, 2020 in Atlanta, standing alongside the Georgia Democratic caucus. Protests had a new fervor over the weekend following the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks on Friday.

Atlanta’s mayor is vowing to change police use-of-force policies and require continuous training so that officers do more to deescalate situations before consequences become fatal.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced her plans after more large protests were touched off by the police killing of another Black man, Rayshard Brooks, outside a fast-food restaurant on Friday.

“I am often reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – ‘There is a fierce urgency of now in our communities,'" the mayor said. “It is clear that we do not have another day, another minute, another hour to waste."

The mayor said she'll also require officers to intervene if they see a colleague using excessive force, saying “they are duty-bound to intercede."

“It’s very clear that our police officers are to be guardians and not warriors within our communities,” the mayor said.

Other cities nationwide are taking similar steps, and police reform proposals are emerging in Congress. Republicans plan a bill with restrictions on police chokeholds and other practices, while a Democratic proposal would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force encounters, and ban chokeholds. The White House plans to announce executive actions Tuesday.

Three weeks of mostly peaceful protests around the nation have now followed the death on May 25 of George Floyd at the knee of a white Minneapolis officer. But there have also been violent clashes between police and protesters, destruction, and acts of rage.

The Wendy’s restaurant where Mr. Brooks was shot was burned down over the weekend. And in Louisville, Kentucky, where no officers have been fired or charged in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in March, police said nine people were arrested Monday after demonstrators blocked traffic and threw a brick into a news station’s car while police shot them with pepper balls.

And in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the FBI is helping police investigate a shooting that critically injured a man during a confrontation Monday night between protesters and armed men protecting the statue of a Spanish conquistador. Police disarmed and detained the gunmen involved.

Albuquerque's mayor cited the shooting as evidence that the statue must be removed as soon as possible as a matter of public safety, and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said there's no room in New Mexico for any escalation of “reckless, violent rhetoric” against the demonstrators.

Pleading through tears on Monday, Mr. Brooks' relatives also called for non-violence but insisted on changes in policing and criminal justice.

An autopsy found that Mr. Brooks was shot twice in the back. Two white officers had responded to calls about a man who was asleep at the wheel in a Wendy's drive-thru lane.

Police video showed him cooperating until a breath test determined his blood-alcohol level was over the legal limit and one of the officers moved to handcuff him. Mr. Brooks was wrestled to the ground, broke free, and took off with a stun gun; a white officer shot him as he tried to run away.

“When does it stop? We’re not only pleading for justice. We’re pleading for change,” said his niece, Chassidy Evans.

Relatives described Mr. Brooks as a loving father of three daughters and a stepson who had a bright smile and a big heart and loved to dance. Ms. Evans said there was no reason for him “to be shot and killed like trash in the street for falling asleep in a drive-thru.”

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he hopes to decide by midweek whether to bring charges in the Brooks case. Officer Garrett Rolfe, who fired the shots that killed Mr. Brooks, was fired, and the other officer at the scene, Devin Brosnan, was put on desk duty. Police Chief Erika Shields resigned.

Several Democratic lawmakers joined the protests and called for Georgia to repeal its citizen’s arrest and stand-your-ground laws, among a slate of other reforms. Republicans who control the legislature have pushed back against most of the Democratic agenda, but even some GOP leaders called for swift action on a hate crimes bill.

Elsewhere, the New York City Police Department is disbanding the type of plainclothes anti-crime units that were involved in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner and have long been criticized for aggressive tactics, Commissioner Dermot Shea said Monday.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a panel of residents, activists, and one police official will review the Police Department’s policy on when officers can use force. Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mayor Tim Keller wants a new department of civilian social workers to provide another option for 911 callers.

And New Jersey’s attorney general ordered police to begin divulging names of officers who commit serious disciplinary violations.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP contributors include Russ Bynum in Savannah, and Ben Nadler in Atlanta.

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