Pleading through tears Monday, the family of a black man killed by Atlanta police outside a drive-thru demanded changes in the criminal justice system and called on protesters to refrain from violence amid heightened tensions across the U.S. three weeks after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.
An autopsy found that 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks was shot twice in the back late Friday by a white officer trying to arrest him at a fast-food restaurant for being intoxicated behind the wheel of his car. Brooks tried to flee after wrestling with officers and grabbing a Taser from one of them.
"Not only are we hurt, we are angry," said Chassidy Evans, Brooks' niece. "When does it stop? We're not only pleading for justice. We're pleading for change."
About 20 of Brooks' children, siblings, cousins and other family members sobbed at a news conference as more than 1,000 people gathered not far away at an NAACP-led protest outside the Georgia Capitol.
Floyd's death May 25 after a white Minneapolis officer put his knee on the black man's neck touched off demonstrations and scattered violence across the U.S., and Brooks' killing rekindled those protests in Atlanta. The Wendy's restaurant where Brooks was shot was burned down over the weekend.
Evans said there was no reason for her uncle "to be shot and killed like trash in the street for falling asleep in a drive-thru."
"Rayshard has a family who loves him who would have gladly come and got him so he would be here with us today," she said.
Relatives described Brooks as a loving father of three daughters and a stepson who had a bright smile, a big heart and loved to dance. His oldest daughter learned her father was slain while celebrating her eighth birthday with cupcakes and friends, wearing a special dress as she waited for Brooks to take her skating, said Justin Miller, an attorney for the family.
"There's no justice that can ever make me feel happy about what's been done," said Tomika Miller, Brooks' widow. "I can never get my husband back. ... I can never tell my daughter he's coming to take you skating or for swimming lessons."
She asked those demonstrating in the streets to "keep the protesting peaceful," saying: "We want to keep his name positive and great."
The NAACP protest took place as lawmakers were returning to work after a three-month coronavirus shutdown.
Several Democratic lawmakers joined protesters and called for Georgia to pass a hate-crimes law and other reforms, including the repeal of the state's citizen's arrest and stand-your-ground laws. Republican leaders pushed back against swift action.
Morgan Dudley, 18, skipped work to join the Capitol demonstration after her job kept her from joining prior Atlanta protests following Floyd's death. As those protests started to die down, she said, she feared the message would be lost.
"I was like, ‘You know what, this is not a trend. This is an actual problem that we're facing,'" said Dudley, who is black.
Cities across the U.S. are responding to calls for reforms while the protests set off by the death in Minneapolis continue.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a panel of residents, activists and one police official will review the police department's policy on when officers can use force. Detroit removed a bust of Christopher Columbus that had a prominent spot downtown for 110 years. And prosecutors in Tampa, Florida, said they are dropping cases against 67 protesters arrested this month for unlawful assembly.
After Brooks' shooting in Atlanta, Officer Garrett Rolfe, who fired the fatal shots, was fired, and the other officer at the scene, Devin Brosnan, was put on desk duty. Police Chief Erika Shields resigned a day after the shooting.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he hopes to decide by midweek whether to charge the officers. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was put in charge of the investigation.
Brooks was shot after police were called amid complaints that a car was blocking the drive-thru lane. An officer found Brooks asleep in the car.
Police video showed Brooks cooperating with the officers for more than 40 minutes until a breath test determined his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit. When one of the officers moved to handcuff him, Brooks tried to run and the officers took him to the ground.
Brooks broke free and took off with a Taser but was shot. Rolfe told authorities that Brooks had fired the Taser at him.
Georgia House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Democrat, said: "For the General Assembly to turn a deaf ear to the cries that are occurring all over Georgia and throughout the country would be a tragic missed opportunity and a dereliction of responsibility."
Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia. AP writer Ben Nadler in Atlanta contributed to this report.