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Rayshard Brooks' Funeral Held At Church Where Martin Luther King Jr. Preached

Updated at 6:41 p.m. ET

The funeral for Rayshard Brooks, the Black man who was fatally shot during an encounter with police at a fast food restaurant earlier this month, was an emotional and triumphant send-off for a man killed in the midst of the nation's latest moment for racial and social reckoning.

Mourners, many of them wearing white, gathered for a private service at Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served as co-pastor. A public viewing for Brooks was held there on Monday.

"Rayshard Brooks is the latest high-profile casualty in the struggle for justice and the battle for the soul of America," the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the church's senior pastor said during the eulogy. "This is about him, but this is much bigger than him."

"We've gotten too much practice at this."

Warnock name-checked more than a dozen Black people that were killed either by law enforcement while in police custody or in situations where racial profiling is thought to be a factor, including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and Breonna Taylor.

They were all killed prior to the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd last month.

"We've gotten too much practice at this," Warnock said.

There were also clear indications that the service took place during the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly everyone in the sanctuary wore a mask. Gospel star Tamela Mann and the church's choir performed virtually.

Warnock, who is running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in the fall, said there have been no worship services in the church since March because of the virus.

He added the service was held at his church because racism is a virus that has been killing people longer than the coronavirus.

"There's COVID-19 and then there's what I call COVID-1619," Warnock said, referring to the year the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Va.

"They are both deadly," Warnock said. "We have to fight both with the same determination and focus."

Brooks' killing on June 12 happened less than three weeks after the May 25 police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis. Tensions and anger over systemic racism and police brutality were already simmering as protesters took to the streets in Atlanta and other cities across the nation.

"We really should not be here today"

The Rev. Bernice King says‚ "No justice, no peace‚" while speaking at Rayshard Brooks' funeral in Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday.
Curtis Compton / AP
The Rev. Bernice King says‚ "No justice, no peace‚" while speaking at Rayshard Brooks' funeral in Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday.

Bernice King, the youngest child of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., told mourners she did not know Rayshard Brooks or his family, but she knew their pain.

"I am here to stand with you in what feels like all-too-familiar moment: having a father killed when I was only 5 years of age. My heart deeply grieves," she said. "I know the pain of growing up without a father and the ongoing attention around his tragic loss."

King, who is a pastor, named all four of Brooks' children and said he should still be alive to watch them grow to adulthood.

"We really should not be here today," King said. "This did not have to happen to Rayshard."

She drew from historic to draw parallels of other events that took place on June 12. On that date in 1963, civil rights icon Medgar Evers was shot and killed in front of his home.

It was on June 12, 1964 that Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, was sentenced to life in prison. He spent 27 years behind bars before he was eventually released and went on to become South Africa's first black president.

King said the date will now be a constant reminder of the struggle for justice.

"Atlanta is being called to task now," she said. "The answer is not more diversity and inclusion, it's now time for Black Lives Matter."

Tomika Miller, the widow of Rayshard Brooks, raises her hand heavenly while holding their 2-year-old daughter Memory during a funeral prayer at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Curtis Compton / AP
Tomika Miller, the widow of Rayshard Brooks, raises her hand heavenly while holding their 2-year-old daughter Memory during a funeral prayer at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Officers charged in Brooks' killing

At the public viewing on Monday, some mourners paying respect to Brooks wore shirts that said "Black Lives Matter," while others stood silently before the gold casket where his body lay.

The scene had many similarities to the one that played out two weeks ago in Houston at the public viewing for Floyd. His body was placed in a similar gold casket.

Floyd, who was also Black, was killed when a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for several minutes. Chauvin faces a second-degree murder charge.

The two officers involved in Brooks' killing have also been charged.

Garrett Rolfe, the officer who fired the fatal shots, was terminated from the Atlanta Police Department. Rolfe is facing 11 charges, including felony murder. If convicted, he faces the possibility of life without parole or the death penalty.

The other officer, Devin Brosnan, remains with the APD and is facing lesser charges.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Brosnan described Brooks' death as "a total tragedy."

He also told the AJC he was taken aback by the district attorney's decision to charge him in Brooks' killing, but added, "I'm still willing to cooperate." At the same time, he and his lawyer told the newspaper that he has not agreed to testify against Rolfe as a witness.

Officers were called to a Wendy's after Brooks fell asleep in the drive-through. Once on the scene, video of the encounter released by the APD show that officers talked to Brooks for more than half an hour.

Brooks was responsive to police demands, admitted he had been drinking earlier and performed a sobriety test, which he failed.

As Rolfe and Brosnan then struggled to get handcuffs on him, he was able to take one of the officers' stun guns. And as he was running away from the officers, he fired it back at police.

After giving a brief chase, Rolfe used his service weapon and fired three shots, two of them striking and killing Brooks.

Tyler Perry, the Atlanta-based movie and television mogul, is reported to be covering funeral costs for the family.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.