WHEN BLACK SENSE MATTERS: THE LEGACY OF RAYSHARD BROOKS by Sean Christopher Dancy
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
First it was Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Then it was George Floyd. Undeniably, George Floyd’s murder was the tip of the iceberg that broke the camel’s back. As we globally witnessed civil unrest was on the rise as America literally became a blazing fury. What further intensified the rage were the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions as opposing political parties battled with common sense regulations that would ultimately protect the world. While some policies are clearly written in black and white, the Black and White struggle was in living color. What we normally read or saw in news reports led many to draw conclusions based on their own life experiences and biases. What was previously assumed through word of mouth can now be verified through viral videos and process of elimination via general common sense. As Eric Garner’s murder (and the 1992 Rodney King beating) proved, even live video dissuaded a grand jury from prosecuting former NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. By the grace of God (amidst global unrest) former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was not so lucky as he was convicted of murdering George Floyd by the state and federal civil rights violations. The same fate awaited the three White men who took part in the murder of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery.
Preceding the demise of these murderers Black America was still under heightened anxiety attacks from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from decades of racial injustice. That same PTSD coupled with selfish arsonists set Wendy’s restaurant ablaze in Atlanta, Georgia after a White Atlanta Police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks during a traffic stop. With this killing happening just over two weeks after the George Floyd murder it’s understandable why social justice warriors, and reckless vandals kept the flames burning for judicial change, figuratively and literally. Unfortunately, when burning embers fill the room with too much smoke the lack of clarity often impairs fair judgment, even when inflamed by centuries of justifiable rage.
Without knowing the full details of the case I pulled up a YouTube video of the Rayshard Brooks incident. With most online police brutality incidents occurring within about 10 minutes of the recording I was surprised that it was 43 minutes long. Following the obligatory "graphic violence" warning I naturally braced myself for the worst. After receiving a 911 call from a motorist about a man who fell asleep in the Wendy's drive thru Atlanta Police Officer Devin Bronsan responded to the scene. Rayshard's rental car was parked in the Wendy's line as the caller described. Noticing that he was asleep PO Bronsan made a few attempts to wake him before he finally got up. At one point Rayshard was laughing in the car while being questioned and when the officer suspected his impairment to drive, he called DUI certified Officer Garrett Rolfe to the scene. When the DUI officer arrived and asked Brooks several questions about where he came from and how he arrived he gave conflicting answers that raised further doubt about his sobriety. Brooks stated that his friend picked him up at Wendy’s in a black Volvo and they went to get some food elsewhere. Afterwards, she dropped him back off at Wendy’s where he said that he wanted to get some food (even though they already ate) and she left him there where his car was supposedly parked. After she dropped him off they were supposed to meet later at a hotel she was staying at. Upon further questioning, not only did Mr. Brooks forget that he was found asleep in the vehicle while in line at the drive-thru he did not even know what town he was in. He repeatedly gave inconsistent answers about how many drinks he had and the types of drinks he had as he switched between margaritas and daiquiris. Upon questioning he also clarified that he did not take any medications that could possible impair his judgment.
Still unconvinced of Brooks’ sobriety the officers asked him to step out of the vehicle and conducted the standard sobriety tests. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being sober and 10 being completely drunk after PO Rolfe asked him how he would rank his sobriety, Brooks stated that he ranked 10 on the list and confidently declared that he’s “totally impaired” to drive. Noticing that he clearly misunderstood the question the DUI officer repeated it, along with many others. Even though he still didn’t know what town he was in he said that he ranked 1 to drive safely. Officer Rolfe asked him if he wanted to take a breathalyzer and after minutes of coaxing, Brooks finally consented. Although Rolfe did not disclose the reading after the test, he officially determined Brooks’ impairment and proceeded to handcuff him. While Rolfe and Bronsan attempted to place his hands behind his back Brooks attempted to break free and a scuffle ensued with all men collapsing to the ground during the melee. Brooks managed to get up and steal a taser from PO Bronsan and fled while the officers pursued him on foot. While running Brooks aimed the taser at them and in their defense, Rolfe shot him in the back and he collapsed to the ground. Back up officers and EMS technicians arrived on the scene as CPR was performed while Brooks was seemingly still alive. Unfortunately, Mr. Brooks’ untimely demise came to pass before his arrival to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
In another viral video of the same incident there was the voice of a disgruntled man shouting profanities to the police, who observed Brooks being “harassed for 20 minutes for no apparent reason” before the fatal confrontation. Since his narrative strongly resonates with Black America we blindly assumed that it was true before gathering all of the facts as vandals set Wendy’s ablaze in angry protest to Brooks’ murder, a day or so after the shooting. Following that incident Officer Rolfe was terminated and Bronsan was placed on administrative leave. Under the leadership of former Atlanta DA Paul Howard, Rolfe was charged with murder and several other charges while Bronsan was charged with aggravated assault and two counts of violation of oath. Subsequently, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields immediately resigned from her position and was replaced by Rodney Bryant.
The countless names of unarmed Black men and women who have been murdered at the hands of police with impunity sparked the demand for body camera footage of police interactions with citizens to ensure transparency. Since their inception they have become both a blessing and a curse which, while used in legal proceedings, can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I am uncertain of what the APD procedures entailed but contrary to what I expected to see, the officers were extremely professional and gracious to Mr. Brooks up until he essentially plotted his own demise. Many in the Black community reasoned that because he was unarmed his fate should not have resulted in murder, even though the taser that he stole from the officer and aimed in his direction was a non-lethal weapon. While Brooks was clearly intoxicated many theories combat the latter notion because when non-lethal weapons such as tasers, mace, bear spray, etc. are used, they are deployed with the intent of immobilizing a potential perpetrator. As I opined after viewing the video and as Sherriff Alphonzo Williams corroborated in his CNN interview, an officer who is tased is in a heightened state of vulnerability thus placing a suspect in a position to seize his weapon and endanger his or her lives as well as others. If Brooks was successful in doing such and returned to his vehicle as an armed and intoxicated criminal with no sense of direction, there’s no telling how many other lives would have potentially been affected by a motor vehicle accident, murder, or any other deadly altercation.
Realistically, Rayshard Brooks was drunk enough to be arrested yet sober enough to recognize when he was wrong, a reality he literally tried to escape on June 12, 2020. The only clear faux pas I saw was when he was being handcuffed neither Rolfe or Bronsan stated that he was being arrested on a DUI violation. One year after the shooting the Atlanta Civil Service Board reinstated PO Rolfe to duty because he was not given the required 5-day due process window to respond to the charges prior to his termination. Former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who reportedly announced his firing on June 13, 2020, stated that firing PO Rolfe at the time “was the right thing to do” citing potential safety concerns for the city as racial tensions were expected. Judicially, it may have been politically inappropriate for Mayor Bottoms to publicly make that assessment if in fact the move was legally unjust. Yet if we’re being truthful the liability for the APD to keep Rolfe on the force at the time may have been a greater loss to the city of Atlanta’s infrastructure, its residents, and its merchants well beyond the Wendy’s arson attack. Even if compensation is rightfully due Rolfe and his partner in the future, the loss is significantly comparable to the former projection.
Despite the latter, in contrast to former District Attorney Paul Howard’s assessment of police culpability leading to the officers being charged, on August 23, 2022 Special Prosecutor Pete Skandalakis ruled that he would not pursue any criminal charges against the officers because the force used against Brooks was “reasonable” and that they "committed no crimes".
Per our historic adversity with systemic racism and law enforcement it is often an uphill battle to recognize the dangers that goodwilled police officers face on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the Rayshard Brooks saga displayed the unfiltered reality of many police officers that do an honest job in combating crime while maintaining dignity and respect for themselves and the suspects that they apprehend, while upholding the rule of law. As we have clearly witnessed Mr. Brooks undermined civility by realigning himself in a precarious position and driving under the influence, while jeopardizing his life and his freedom. Like Mr. Brooks stated in a video interview, I also can identify with the struggles of having a felony conviction. As a teenager I was racially profiled and searched by NYPD on many occasions only for the officers to find nothing on me, because no crime was committed to even justify any probable cause. In 1988 I was wrongly convicted for a robbery that I had no part in and I am still fighting to clear my name. That said I have experienced the struggle to find employment and pay a debt to society that I do not even owe, because even though I am innocent I was still viewed as a criminal because of my conviction. Knowing the challenges of being a Black man alone I had the choice of either accepting the ‘criminal’ label and conducting myself as such, or becoming an agent for the change that I want to see in my own life. Since I chose the latter I consider myself victorious in spite of obstacles that a felony conviction still presents to this very day, even after 34 years.
Yes, I agree that in the face of racism Black Lives Matter but the slogan is meaningless unless we recognize that Black sense matters more. Since he had three children as a father Rayshard Brooks was directly responsible for the legacy he left behind immediately before his death, because his murder will always be an imprint that they can never erase. While his decision adversely impacted his children it also became a setback in our infinite struggle for justice and equality. In the midst of such there is still a valuable lesson for the Black community to learn. We must always remember to be discerning and use common sense by equally holding ourselves accountable by exercising fair judgment that we demand from others. I know that there is no guarantee that you will receive it return since history has consistently reminded us of that. At the very least, with God’s love self-love is the greatest gift that we can give ourselves and our beloved. My prayers are lifted to our men and women in blue as well as Rayshard Brooks' family. May he rest in peace.