'Our police officers are to be guardians and not warriors': Atlanta mayor orders police to deescalate following killing of Rayshard Brooks

'There is a shift of expectations across this country and that shift will be no different here in Atlanta'

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 15 June 2020 22:39
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Family of Rayshard Brooks demands justice

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has issued a series of executive orders for her city's police department to "immediately adopt" deescalation procedures following the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man shot by an officer in a Wendy's restaurant parking lot.

Officers have a "duty to intervene" against other officers' use of deadly force, according to her order.

"It's very clear our police officers are to be guardians and not warriors in our communities," she said during a Monday press conference.

She said the orders build a "framework for action" for the Atlanta Police Department "and possibly the nation" following several weeks of unrest after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the killings of black Americans by police.

The orders follow a police reform task force that convened for the first time last week, with plans to issue recommendations within 14 days of its meeting and implement those plans within 45 days.

But following Mr Brooks's killing on 12 June, the mayor — echoing a quote from Martin Luther King Jr — said "there is a fierce urgency of now".

"It is clear that we do not have another day, another minute, another hour to waste," the mayor said.

The task force is expected to issue a suite of policing policy recommendations later this month.

Mr Brooks was killed following a police stop at Wendy's, where police were alerted to a man sleeping in his car. An officer's body-mounted camera footage captured Mr Brooks asking whether he can walk home before he is given a breathalyzer test then placed in handcuffs. He attempts to run, then wrestles an officer's Taser away before he is shot twice in the back as he runs from the scene.

A medical examiner determined his death ws a homicide.

"We saw the worst happen Friday night," the mayor said. "It angered me and saddened me beyond words ... It is my responsibility as mayor of this great city to continue to put that anger and sadness into action."

The officer who shot Mr Brooks has been fired; the city's police chief has also resigned.

Though Atlanta's police does have a set of deescalation policies, there is not explicit direction for officers to intervene when another officer is using deadly force, officials said.

The mayor said "morale is bad" in her city's police department and across the US "because of the scrutiny, anger and frustration directed at our police departments".

"I don't think Atlanta is any different," she said. "There is a shift of expectations across this country and that shift will be no different here in Atlanta."

Policing reform will make clear "what the expectations are" among police officers, she said.

Addressing protests and demonstrations in the city, which have continued nightly following Mr Floyd's death, she said: "My anger and my frustration matches theirs. The difference is I am using the bully pulpit I have as mayor to effectuate longlasting change in this city ... I am equally mad, I am sad, the entire range of emotions, to watch Mr Brooks on Friday night, talk about wanting to go home, for his daughter's birthday."

"It breaks my heart," she said. ""And there is nothing I can say or I can do as mayor that can bring him up or that will change what happened on Friday."

But "burning down buildings will not get us change in this city," said the mayor, pointing to Saturday's fire that engulfed the Wendy's where Mr Brooks was killed.

"If anything it will erase the message and eclipse what this is all about," she said.

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