In an interview filmed in February, a few months before his fatal attempt to resist arrest, Rayshard Brooks discussed his personal and financial struggles resulting from having been incarcerated for multiple charges, including false imprisonment and credit card fraud.
Brooks was fatally shot by a police officer in the parking lot of a Wendy’s on June 12 after being found asleep behind the wheel of his car while in the restaurant’s drive-thru. After testing positive for driving under the influence, Brooks resisted arrest, grappling with police on the ground, seizing a taser from one of the officers, and firing the taser in the direction of a pursuing officer. Upon firing the taser, Brooks was fatally shot in the back twice by the pursuing officer.
In the interview, filmed in February for a project by the group Reconnect (video below), Brooks described the difficulties of being on probation, a situation which provides a likely explanation for why Brooks chose to resist arrest.
“I’ve always been the type of person to that if you do some things that’s wrong, you pay your debts to society,” Brooks said.
“I just feel like some of the system could, you know, look at us as individuals,” he suggested. “We do have lives, you know, just a mistake we made, and you know, not just do us as if we are animals.”
During the interview, Brooks cited two of the charges that landed him in prison. “When I did get arrested it was for false imprisonment and financial credit card fraud,” Brooks explained.
Clayton County, Georgia, court records show that Brooks was charged with a number of crimes between 2011 and 2016 and convicted in 2014 on multiple counts, including false imprisonment, simple battery/family, and felony cruelty/cruelty to children. For false imprisonment, Brooks was sentenced to one year in prison and six years probation. For the three other counts, he received a year probation each. Brooks was charged with financial transaction card theft in 2016, which resulted in another year-long prison sentence.
After serving his time, Brooks said in the interview, he found it extremely difficult to move on and move up.
“For one individual trying to deal with all of these things at one point in time, it’s just impossible,” he said. “You have court costs, probation … you just would have to have a lot of money.”
“You go to fill out our application and you get to this question: have you ever been convicted of a crime, or have you ever been arrested?” he said in reference to applying for a job. “You know, you’re sitting there like, ‘Oh my God. I hope this doesn’t hinder me from getting this job.’ And then you finish up the application and you have some employers that come back to you: ‘Well, Mr. Brooks, unfortunately, we can’t hire you due to the fact that you’ve been incarcerated or you’ve been arrested for this and that.’ And that… just breaks your heart.”
“It’s hurting us, but it’s hurting our families the most,” he said of the obstacles imposed by the probation system. “You know, so as we go through these trials and tribulations, it’s hurting our kids, and it’s taking away from our families, you know. The sole provider is a male or female figure, you know, speaking for both, and it’s taking away from us.”
“I just feel like some of the system could look at us as individuals… and not just do us as if we are animals,”
Rayshard Brooks, who was killed by an ex-police officer, gave an interview in February to a company about the struggles after incarceration.https://t.co/xZ2dfLC2Ql pic.twitter.com/UFhwa2zN1b
— New Day (@NewDay) June 18, 2020
In an op-ed published Wednesday, CNN’s Van Jones argues that Brooks’ fatal encounter with police is as much about “America’s desperate need to overhaul our probation system” as it is about police response.
“For a person on probation, as Brooks was, any contact with a police officer — for any reason — means an almost certain return to the horrors of a jail cell,” writes Jones. “It is safe to assume that Brooks did not want to go back to jail over sleeping in his car or failing a sobriety test, lose everything he had and be forced to start his life over again. In other words, we do not know why the Atlanta police officer chose to shoot a man who was running away from him. But we can guess why that man chose to run, in the first place.”
While Jones suggests that the officer had no rationale for firing on Brooks, some law enforcement officials and experts argue otherwise. In an appearance on CNN on Tuesday, Georgia Sheriff Alfonzo Williams, who is African-American, argued that the pursuit and shooting of Brooks was “completely justified.”
“Obviously, we saw in the video that the — Brooks was engaged in a fight with the officers,” said Williams. “They were on the ground. We know that when we’re on the ground, we have a very high likelihood of being hurt or killed. It’s not the place we want to be. This is not a wrestling match. Brooks is able to take a nonlethal weapon, a taser, away from one of the officers, and he flees, they give chase. He’s committed two felony obstruction of an officer counts, and he needs to be held accountable. So they were perfectly justified in running behind Brooks to capture him.”
The threat posed by the taser, Williams said, justified the shooting of Brooks because of its ability to incapacitate an officer, thus making him vulnerable to attack and could allow the suspect to take his firearm. “[I]f that officer had been hit, he still has a firearm on his side,” said Williams. “And the likelihood of him being stomped in the head or having his firearm taken and used against him was a probability. And so he did what he needed to do, and this was a completely justified shooting.”
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