ATLANTA (Reuters) - Mourners filed into the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Monday for a public viewing for Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who lay in a gold-colored casket after being killed by an Atlanta police officer outside a restaurant ten days ago.
All wearing masks as mandated by the church, and some in Black Lives Matter T-shirts, mourner after mourner walked slowly past the casket to pay their respects to Brooks, who lay in a white suit with gold buttons and aviator sunglasses on his face. One woman faced the casket with open arms and then pumped her fist in the air.
A lone violin played as people filed in and out silently, some pausing for a brief prayer.
Brooks’ June 12 death at the hands of officers who were called to the scene because he had fallen asleep in his car further heightened tensions over brutality and racism in American policing that had been burning since the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
People started lining up three hours before the viewing began. Many said that while they had not known the 27-year old Brooks, his death had struck a chord, accentuating their own fears in dealing with the police.
“I don’t know them, but I feel the hurt for them,” Tricia Hill, 45, told Reuters as she waited to enter the church on a hot and sometimes rainy afternoon.
“When I saw this on the news, I just shook my head and said to myself, that’s another one, another Black man died from (the) police,” added Hill, who is Black and was wearing an “I can’t breath” T-shirt.
The body arrived in a black hearse with a placard bearing Brooks’ picture and the words: “KILLED in Atlanta, Georgia 2020”. The casket was escorted into a church steeped in the history of the Black struggle for civil rights. Ebenezer Baptist was where Martin Luther King Jr. preached until his assassination in 1968.
“It’s important to me because this is history,” said Latoia Spikes, who along with her 12-year old daughter were the first in line. “I want to honor him and show respect for him and his family.”
Brooks’ funeral, which the family’s lawyer said would be paid for by filmmaker Tyler Perry, is scheduled for Tuesday.
On June 12, police were called to a Wendy’s fast food restaurant in Atlanta by an employee that reported that Brooks was asleep in his car in the drive-through lane and appeared intoxicated.
He tussled with officers after failing a sobriety test and apparently ran off with a Taser stun gun from one of the officers. Video shows that Brooks appeared to fire the Taser in the direction of the officers.
Brooks was shot twice in the back, with one round piercing his heart, officials said.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard asserted that Brooks was running away at the time of the shooting, was more than 18 feet (5.49 m) away and posed no threat.
Surveillance and other videos also appeared to show one officer kicking Brooks and another standing on his shoulders as he lay dying.
The former Atlanta police officer who shot Brooks, Garrett Rolfe, 27, was fired and charged with murder. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, 26, was placed on administrative duty and charged with aggravated assault. The city’s police chief resigned.
The Wendy’s restaurant was burned down after the killing.
State Representative Park Cannon, whose district includes Ebenezer Baptist and the Wendy’s, was among the more than 600 people who attended to support the family.
“This is my home church,” said Cannon, a Democrat, adding she had to be there. “We need to stand strong, all of us together. It’s our fight for justice. The world is watching Atlanta.”
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Alistair Bell and Bill Berkrot