Analysis

Atlanta DA refuses to prosecute killer cops in Rayshard Brooks’ murder

Despite nearing a year since the murder of Rayshard Brooks, Fulton County officials have yet to prosecute the two killer cops of the Atlanta Police Department.

Brooks was killed by officers Garret Rolfe and Devin Brosnan on the night of June 12, 2020, outside a Wendy’s restaurant near Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood. Brooks was shot twice in his back. As previously reported by Liberation News, Brooks’ murder happened this past summer amidst a massive nationwide rebellion against racism and police brutality, with many protests by the outraged Atlanta community demanding justice following Brooks’ death. Both officers were fired, arrested, and then released on bail.

While Brooks’ grieving family waits for justice, different parts of the state apparatus are locked in a struggle with each other over the case, as well as turning on one of their own for being too responsive to last summer’s Black Lives Matter movement.

For many months, Fulton County’s district attorney and Georgia’s attorney general have been locked in a dispute over who should investigate the killing of Brooks and prosecute the officers involved. In late January, the new DA Fani Willis requested of Attorney General Chris Carr that the DA be recused from two high-profile police brutality cases dating from summer 2020.

In addition to Brooks’ case, the other high-profile case being referred to involves two Black college students, Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young, who were tased and dragged out of their car, after having their tires slashed and windows smashed by a group of APD officers during a large police brutality protest in the summer. The incident was captured on live TV. The body camera footage released by the police was so blatantly horrifying that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was forced under the pressure of the mass movement to fire two of the cops immediately and roll out an investigation. The two officers have since been reinstated with back pay.

Willis wants her office to be excluded from both police brutality cases, citing a conflict of interest involving her predecessor, Paul Howard. Former DA Howard brought forward multiple felony charges against the cops who killed Brooks, including murder charges against Rolfe days after the investigation began in the summer amid the national rebellion. Howard also charged the six officers involved in brutalizing the two college students.  

Across the country, district attorneys, although responsible for prosecutions, rarely charge and prosecute officers in police brutality cases, sending a clear message to the public that the laws that the working class must abide by do not apply to the police. Police officers in the United States are largely protected under “qualified immunity,” which allows them to not be held accountable for their actions. In other words, it allows the cops to function as judge, jury, and executioner in the streets. On the rare occasions that cops are indicted, charged, prosecuted — or even more rarely convicted — for their crimes, the decisions are forced by the struggle in the streets demanding justice for victims of police brutality.

Former DA under investigation for being too eager to prosecute cops

Paul Howard himself is now under criminal investigation by the Georgia Board of Investigation, a third-party investigative body used by various state institutions, for having brought forth criminal charges against the cops. The basis for the investigation is the grand jury subpoenas that Howard used to indict Brooks’ killers. The subpoena forced APD to turn over its open investigation of Rolfe and the Brooks’ case to the DA.

Using a technicality, that the grand jury had been suspended as of March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic when Howard used the grand jury subpoena, Howard is now facing an investigation. Depending on the results of the investigation, the findings could work in favor of one of Rayshard Brooks’ killers, Garret Rolfe. If the subpoenas with which Howard acquired the evidence to base his charges are challenged, then by extension the felony charges against the cops can also be challenged. Such a situation could lead to the original charges against Rolfe being dropped.  

Within the criminal justice institutions of the state, former DA Howard’s decision to quickly charge the cops in response to the demands of the mass movement is seen as unacceptable. In such instances, the system pushes back forcefully to maintain the status quo. Another line of attack on Howard is that the felony charges were announced before the Georgia Board’s investigation of Brooks’ killing had concluded. However, DAs can conduct parallel investigations, as well as have the power to bring charges on any case in which they find probable cause.

Attorney General Chris Carr has denied DA Willis’ recent requests to be recused, stating there is no conflict of interest and that the DA has to take on the cases; another prosecutor will not be appointed. Killer cop Rolfe’s attorneys are taking full advantage of the situation and have already filed motions to have the entire case dismissed on the basis that there is no qualified prosecutor on the case. The gridlock between various state institutions has created the ideal conditions for another killer cop to potentially walk free.

The people continue to demand justice for victims of police terror

On Feb 4, the People’s Uprising — a task force formed due to pressure from the Summer 2020 protests and whose board includes State Representative Erica Thomas — held a press conference. There, it demanded that the Fulton County DA stop its efforts to recuse itself from the cases, which has been subjecting grieving families to more bureaucracy and an unnecessarily time-consuming process.

Not unlike other task forces that have been created by city councils in response to major protests against racism and police terror, Atlanta’s task force was announced on July 2, 2020. It is made up of a mix of politicians, judges, lawyers and activists. As is the case with such task forces, it calls for “public safety reform,” “criminal justice reform,” and “civic engagement.” Generally, such task forces serve Democratic Party officials who establish a formal partnership with prominent members in the community and the movement to pacify the community outrage by controlling the political message and directing the energy of the movement into electoral politics and state institutions. The core ideology of the task force is a myth: that the system can be reformed from within.

At the press conference, Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, was moved to tears describing the runaround she has been getting in her fight to get justice for her husband. She lamented the “disrespect,” she has endured from the local justice system that has little to offer her, while reinstating the violent cops who tased the two college students last summer.

DA Fani Willis is attempting to abdicate her office’s responsibility for the apparent rebuke of a rare moment of accountability to Atlantans — the firing of these officers. This explains why Tomika Miller is compelled to revisit the site of her husband’s murder for press conferences and be reduced to public supplication for answers from ostensible public servants.

Since last summer, Atlanta’s City Council has also adopted legislation to create an Atlanta Department of Public Safety and Wellness, which would include a system of non-emergency responders. The potential use of non-emergency responders such as firefighters and social workers to respond to crises situations would be a positive development. However, this will not fundamentally address the issue of police brutality and terror against working class and people from oppressed nationalities as long as the police are funded to the teeth and are granted protections above the law. Atlanta’s Mayor Bottoms has proposed to increase the police department’s budget by $14 million, while the city is in a deficit of $40 million and has cut millions in social spending during the pandemic.

Real accountability would mean charging and prosecuting cops for their crimes and defunding the police. While progressive reforms that result from the movement are welcome, working-class people will not be fooled and pacified into complacency by public officials with their public-relations stunts. The people demand: Jail killer cops!

Feature image: Rayshard Brooks. Screenshot by Liberation News from “Rayshard Brooks: In his own words,” YouTube video by Reconnect Inc.

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