Kudos to the Fulton County District Attorney's office in Atlanta for being quick and decisive in filing charges Wednesday against the Atlanta police officers who shot and killed a fleeing man five days before.
At a news conference to announce the charges, prosecutors said Officer Garrett Rolfe, who was fired Saturday, the day after the shooting, declared, "I got him," after firing the fatal shots into the back of Rayshard Brooks. Then Rolfe kicked the victim, while his partner, Officer Devin Brosnan, stood on the fatally wounded black man's shoulder.
Rolfe and Brosnan, both of whom are white, then failed to render aid for more than two minutes, said Paul L. Howard Jr., the Fulton County district attorney.
Rolfe faces a total of 11 charges, including felony murder and aggravated assault. Brosnan, who remains on the police force on administrative duty, was charged with three counts, including aggravated assault and violations of oath, Howard said.
This is exactly the kind of bold and quick action that is necessary to reassure people— black, white or any color — that police conduct, good or bad, will be reviewed quickly and transparently. In too many similar cases over the past decades, reviews of police conduct were delayed until weeks or months later, and often not until video finally surfaced. All too often police reviews have simply been swept under the rug until other incidents occurred in our communities and people forgot about the earlier cases or simply lost faith that anything might ever change.
This also is the kind of bold and quick action necessary in today's environment on the heels of protests all around the country over another unnecessary death of another black man, George Floyd, after a Minneapolis officer held a knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as three other officers watched and heard Floyd beg to breathe. That incident, too, was caught on bystander video and the officer, who looked nonchalantly at the camera and put his hands in his pockets, also is now charged with second-degree murder.
But even before that, Georgia already was on edge after the reportedly racially motivated slaying of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County. Arbery, a 25-year-old black jogger, was shot in February after being pursued by armed white residents of a coastal South Georgia neighborhood who thought he matched the description of a someone thought to have burglarized a home there. The arrests of a father and son who claimed they were making a citizens' arrest did not come until May after video was released that forced the case to be turned over to a fourth prosecutor's office.
Tensions with the police flared again on Friday when Brooks was killed. The Wendy's where the incident occurred in the parking lot was burned.
Hours after the charges were announced, some Atlanta police officers showed their displeasure and began calling in sick just before their night shifts were set to begin. A police union spokesman confirmed the protest to NBC News, but said the union had not organized a formal walkout or "blue flu." Yet throughout Wednesday night, more officers called in sick, refused to show up to any calls except those requesting backup and went radio-silent.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN the city still had enough officers on duty. "The thing that I'm most concerned about is how we repair the morale in our police department, and how do we ensure our communities are safe as they interact with our police officers," she added.
Brooks' death happened after the police were called to the Wendy's where the 27-year-old had fallen asleep in his car in the drive-through line. The two officers woke Brooks, got him to move his car to a parking place, and after about 40 minutes of peaceful talk, asked Brooks to take a sobriety test. He failed it. Police began to handcuff him and the three men scuffled before Brooks grabbed a taser out of one officer's hands and began running away from the police. In a video, Brooks appears to point the taser back toward police without turning around or slowing his run. The officer is seen drawing a weapon and shooting at Brooks, who collapses.
Within 24 hours, Mayor Bottoms said she did not believe the shooting was justified, and Rolfe was fired. The city's police chief, Erika Shields, resigned.
An argument likely will unfold in some courtroom that Rolfe feared for his safety or the safety of someone else Brooks might later have targeted with the taser. But the prosecutor, Howard, said Brooks posed no danger to Rolfe's life, and the killing was unjustified.
Here's the thing: The situation should never have come to that.
Howard said his investigators focused on the more than 41-minute discussion Brooks had with officers after they first encountered him. The prosecutor described it as "calm," "cordial" and "almost jovial" as Brooks complied with various requests from the officers, including telling officers that he didn't have a weapon and consenting to a pat-down. He said Rolfe then grabbed Brooks from behind — without saying he was under arrest for driving under the influence, as he was required by policy to do — and the scuffle ensued.
This is why training has to change for the better. This is why police reform must happen. This is why quick and transparent review is crucial.
People don't have to die. Officers don't have to be charged. Buildings don't have to burn. There is a better way.