Dozens of mourners, most dressed in white and nearly all wearing masks, filled the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday afternoon for the private funeral of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer outside an Atlanta Wendy’s restaurant almost two weeks ago.
Brooks, a father of three daughters and a stepson, was shot twice in the back as he ran from Atlanta Police Department officers. He died in the hospital following surgery. The shooting occurred amid international protests against police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
Rev. Bernice King — in a moving speech at the church where her father, Martin Luther King Jr., was a co-pastor from 1960 until his assassination in 1968 — said she knew the pain Brooks’ children felt.
“Having a father killed when I was only 5 years of age, my heart deeply grieves,” King said. “I know the pain of growing up without a father. And the ongoing attention around his tragic loss.”
King said she mourned with Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, and his loved ones.
“We really should not be here today. This did not have to happen to Rayshard,” King said. “There’s so many ways that Friday June 12 could have ended. And a police killing did not have to be one of them. And yet, here we are again.”
“Ironically,” King said, June 12 is the same day that civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway in 1963.
“June 12 is also the same day in 1964 that Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to overthrow the government of South Africa,” she added, noting that Mandela later became president of the country.
“So June 12,” King said, “is now a constant reminder of the struggle for justice for Black lives throughout the world. Tragically here we are once again.”
King said she was at Brooks’ funeral for “what feels like an all-too-familiar moment.”
“We are here because individuals continue to hide behind badges and trainings and policies and procedures rather than regarding the humanity of others in general and Black lives specifically,” she told the crowd.
Ambrea Mikolajczyk, who owns a construction company in Toledo, Ohio, where Brooks worked last year, remembered him as a “once-in-a-lifetime individual.” Brooks had overcome his circumstances and was working hard to “become the best provider, caretaker, community builder, father, husband, son, brother and relationship agent he could possibly be,” she said.
Mikolajczyk said Brooks biked to work every day, regardless of the weather, and was always the first to arrive for duty.
On one occasion, when a coworker’s car broke down, Mikolajczyk said, Brooks got off his bike, pushed the car and walked alongside him for two hours. “That’s the type of man Ray was,” she said. “He looked out for everyone.”
Her clients referred to Brooks as “legal aid” because he knew the answers to everything, Mikolajczyk said. He was “smart as a whip” and helpful almost to a fault, she said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and singers Tamela Mann and Kelly Price attended the funeral. Mann sang her hit, “I Can Only Imagine.”
Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church and a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, delivered the eulogy Tuesday. Warnock said the funeral was paid for by media mogul Tyler Perry, a prominent figure in Atlanta.
Warnock recited a long list of names of Black people who died at the hands of police in recent years, including Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Botham Jean and George Floyd, stating, “Sadly, we’ve gotten too much practice at this.”
Warnock said he has heard some say the cases of Floyd and Brooks are not the same, because Floyd complied and Brooks ran. “Yes,” he said. “That’s true.”
“But they are both dead. And therein is the problem,” he said. “Black parents do not really know what to tell their children in order to keep them alive and that’s a problem. That’s not just a Black problem. Although it’s happening to Black people. That’s an American problem.”
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said at a news conference last week that Brooks “never presented himself as a threat” and appeared “almost jovial” leading up to the fatal shooting. He said Brooks followed every instruction from the officers and was never informed that he was under arrest for driving under the influence.
The officers were responding to a 911 call on June 12 about a man who appeared intoxicated sleeping in his car in the drive-thru of the Wendy’s. Brooks was questioned by the officers for more than 25 minutes, body and dash-camera video shows.
The Atlanta police officer who shot Brooks, Garrett Rolfe, was fired and charged with murder. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, was placed on administrative duty and charged with aggravated assault. The city’s police chief resigned. The Wendy’s restaurant was burned down and protesters took to the streets of Atlanta following Brooks’ death.