MLKs daughter shares message with Rayshard Brooks children at funeral
Friends and family — some wearing Black Lives Matter face masks — gathered on a cloudy day in Atlanta for the funeral of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who was shot dead in a Wendy’s parking lot by a police officer.
Brooks, a 27-year-old husband, father and stepfather, was running away from two Atlanta officers on the night of June 12 when he died from two bullets to the back.
Brooks’ friend and former colleague, Ambrea Mikolajczyk, called him a “once in a lifetime individual.”
“Ray rode a bike to work in the rain,” she said at Tuesday’s service. “On hot summer days, in tough road conditions and was always the first to arrive.”
“He never had a bad day,” she said. “He radiated such a bright light that regardless of the cowardly act that took his life, his light will never be dimmed.”
Brooks’ funeral was at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his first sermon and was later eulogized after his assassination in 1968.
A choir sang virtually to promote social distancing.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as well as Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and former member of Georgia’s House of Representatives, were among those in attendance. Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis sent a letter to the Brooks family.
The Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., spoke at the service, acknowledging how she went through what Brooks’ children are experiencing.
“Although I did not have a chance to meet Rayshard, I am here to stand with you in what feels like an all-too-familiar moment. Having a father killed when I was only 5 years of age, my heart deeply grieves for [his daughters] Dream, Memory, Blessing and [stepson] Mekai,” King said. “I know the pain of growing up without a father and the ongoing attention around his tragic loss. I am and will continue to pray for each of you.”
Brooks’ daughter, Blessing, was celebrating her 8th birthday on the same day her father died, said the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
“This did not have to happen to Rayshard,” King said.
“Rayshard Brooks’ life matters. And he should’ve been able to live to enjoy his family and watch his kids grow up into adulthood,” King said, prompting applause from the mourners.
“The officers should have gone home that night without blood on their hands,” King said. “This is the great tragedy in our nation that must cease.”
Brooks was fatally shot after officers were called to the parking lot for reports of a man asleep in his car. Police gave Brooks a Breathalyzer test, which registered a blood-alcohol level of .108%, above the legal limit of .08%.
When officers tried to put him in handcuffs, Brooks struggled, wrestled with both officers on the ground and then grabbed an officer’s stun gun.
Surveillance video showed Brooks running through the parking lot with the officers behind him. At one point, Brooks turned and allegedly shot the stun gun at one of the officers, Garrett Rolfe, who drew his weapon and opened fire.
When Brooks was shot by Rolfe, he “did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury,” said Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr.
“Ray looked out for everyone,” Mikolajczyk said at Tuesday’s funeral, adding that when a single mother who lived next door was being abused, he stood up for her.
Mikolajczyk said she believes the death of her “smart-as-a-whip” friend will help lead to police reforms and “hard conversations” about race.
“Through Ray’s death, we will live in a world where we’re no longer afraid of police … our daughters and sons lives will be spared,” she said. “His life will not be in vain.”
In the Rev. Warnock’s eulogy, as he discussed the need for police reform, he called systemic racism “the framework” and mass incarceration “the beast.”
“Keep marching, keep protesting, keep raising your voice, keep raising the issue,” Warnock said, and he urged Brooks’ friends and family to vote in November.