By Dr. E. Faye Williams
(Trice Edney Wire) – The past few weeks have been anything except uneventful. The passage of new life-altering progressive laws, expected and unexpected results in primary elections, the service of a subpoena on Mar-A-Lago, and a variety of other events have captured the attention of the nation. Because of a vested interest in the lives of Black people, my own attention was drawn to the results of the investigation of the death of Rayshard Brooks.
Rayshard Brooks was the 27-year-old Black man shot and killed in an Atlanta Wendy’s parking lot after an altercation with police in June 2020, two weeks after the murder of George Floyd. I was more pained about the results of the investigation than I was surprised. Like me, critical observers have come to expect decisions favoring police in cases involving Black men, and, increasingly, Black women. Despite assertions by law enforcement executives that there is a reformation in policing, evidence suggests that the reformation is principally administrative and has little consequence on the street.
The initial encounter occurred when two Atlanta police officers responded to a complaint from a Wendy’s employee that someone had fallen asleep behind the wheel of his automobile in the drive-through lane of the restaurant. As expected, two officers began an on-scene investigation and an extensive conversation with Mr. Brooks.
For approximately 41 minutes of questioning, the encounter was civil and Mr. Brooks complied with the officers’ requests. It was only after he failed a breathalyzer test and was threatened with arrest for drunk driving that the encounter became hostile. A struggle ensued and Mr. Brooks wrestled a taser away from one of the officers and began to flee. In response, the other officer shot Brooks in the back – twice.
On August 23, 2022, Peter Skandalakis, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, released the results of his investigation. He announced that the shooting was justified! “In this case, you must remember that here we have a peaceful encounter, that all of a sudden becomes a violent encounter,” Skandalakis said. “When Brooks takes the Taser, he now becomes basically a person with an offensive position. He can incapacitate the officers.” He added that race was not believed to be a factor. The leader of the local chapter of the NAACP criticized the ruling, saying: “Race is absolutely a part of it.”
I believe that every police officer deserves to return home from duty without being injured. I believe that every officer is sworn to the oath of upholding the law. I accept that the duties of the police often involve life-altering, instantaneous decisions. With those facts given, I must agree with the assessment that race was absolutely a part of the outcome. In this case, I believe that race AND ego were integral to the outcome.
Even with the vagaries of watching video recordings, it was obvious that Mr. Brooks physically bested and overpowered two police officers. What was equally obvious was that his primary interest was to escape and not to inflict injury upon either of the officers. His willingness to engage in a “peaceful encounter” offers proof.
I see a Black man who, because of his blackness, preemptively presents the threat of violence and lethality to the psyche of the police. I see police officers professionally and physically embarrassed by their beatdown. The result is self-evident.
Could this have been different? Absolutely, with intuitive policing, yes! The police knew his name. They knew where he lived. His vehicle was under police control. His apprehension could have been made under “cooler” circumstances. The “easier” choice was made – PULL THE TRIGGER!
(Dr. E. Faye Williams is a minister, a UN Peace Ambassador, President of the Dick Gregory Society, author of “Dick Gregory: Wake Up and Stay Woke,” as well as a columnist for Trice-Edney Wire Service.)