Atlanta got its first brief look at what abolishing the police looks like after their officers walked off the job overnight in protest of charges in the Rayshard Brooks killing. Entire shifts reportedly walked out and neighboring jurisdictions reportedly refused to assist Atlanta except to back up officers on the job, although the city tried to downplay the wildcat action:
Earlier suggestions that multiple officers from each zone had walked off the job were inaccurate. The department is experiencing a higher than usual number of call outs with the incoming shift. We have enough resources to maintain operations & remain able to respond to incidents.
— Atlanta Police Department (@Atlanta_Police) June 18, 2020
That’s not what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last night, and it’s not what those listening to police scanners heard, either. A reporter from the local CBS affiliate said her sources confirmed the walkout:
Breaking: Sources confirm Atlanta Police officers in zone 6 have walked out. Sources say they drove back to their precinct, turned in their keys and went home. Officers in zone 3 are allegedly doing the same. @CBS46 #ContinuingCoverage #Atlanta #BlueFlu pic.twitter.com/kgLuNwDalP
— shon gables cbs46 (@shongables) June 18, 2020
The union didn’t seem interested in downplaying it, anyway:
Vince Champion, Southeast regional director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, told the AJC he could not confirm which police zones were affected.“There are officers walking off,” Champion said Wednesday evening.
There are officers saying they are not going to leave the precinct unless to help another officer. Some are walking off and sitting in their personal vehicles.”
Champion said he has been told APD was attempting to get back-up support from adjacent law enforcement agencies. But he said some agencies declined to help.
“Why would you put your officer in Fulton County and take the chance of this happening?” Champion said. “You have an officer who just heard what Paul Howard said, saying he’s going to be in prison for the rest of his life or put to death, and now he’s got to surrender.”
My friend Rob O’Donnell, president of Brothers Before Others, said his sources in the Atlanta PD also confirmed the job action:
My contacts in the Atlanta Police Department inform me that members from evening shift Zone 4 walked off the job shortly followed by Officers in Zone 3 and 6. The good members of the @Atlanta_Police will not stand for @FultonCountyDA’s activism in place of applying the law. https://t.co/PDWZNgFeXb
— Rob O'Donnell (@odonnell_r) June 17, 2020
Why the walkout? Yesterday, the Fulton County DA charged two police officers with felony murder for shooting Brooks after he resisted arrest for a DUI and took one officer’s Taser from him. The released body-cam footage shows that officers fired when Brooks pointed the Taser back at them as he was running from them, which makes the charges questionable. What makes them even more questionable is that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the agency with jurisdiction in the case, hadn’t finished its investigation of the case yet. And they made sure everyone knew it yesterday afternoon, too:
The state agency responsible for conducting an independent investigation of the death of a Black Atlanta man during an encounter with white police officers in the parking lot of an Atlanta fast food restaurant said it was surprised by the announcement that those officers would face charges.
On Wednesday, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced that fired Atlanta Police officer Garrett Rolfe would be charged with murder and 10 other counts following the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks Friday. Rolfe’s partner, Devin Brosnan, also faces three charges in connection to the shooting.
It’s an announcement that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said caught the agency off guard. In a statement posted moments after the charges were announced, the GBI said it was neither made aware of the press conference before it happened, nor was it “consulted on the charges filed” by the District Attorney’s office.
In other words, at least to police, this looks like a politically motivated railroad job by Howard. The DA claimed that Brooks “never presented himself as a threat” to officers, but surveillance video of the encounter (at the AJC link) shows Brooks pointing the Taser back at the officers just before getting shot. That’s a curious way to describe someone who just wrestled a Taser away from a police officer while resisting arrest, and a Taser is apparently designated as a potentially lethal weapon in Georgia to boot.
Rob O’Donnell provides the freeze frame from the surveillance camera:
— Rob O'Donnell (@odonnell_r) June 18, 2020
That’s why the rounds fired by police hit Brooks in the back. Was that use of force justified under the circumstances? The GBI was supposed to look at all the evidence and make that determination before the investigation got short-circuited by the DA. It still might be an actionable shooting, but full-on murder is a very, very strange call in this case.
Police made their unhappiness known last night with their feet. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms scolded them to “keep their commitment to our communities” and show up for work, but admitted that Atlanta’s police have a morale problem in the wake of these charges:
“There’s a lot happening in our cities and our police officers are receiving the brunt of it, quite frankly,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. She said the city has committed to the officers through a big pay raise, and “we expect that our officers will keep their commitment to our communities.”
She said she thinks morale is down tenfold.
“We do have enough officers to cover us through the night,” she said. “Our streets won’t be any less safe because of the number of officers who called out. But it is just my hope again that our officers will remember the commitment that they made when they held up their hand and they were sworn in as police officers.”
Perhaps Bottoms can start by asking the Fulton County DA why he proceeded with charges against the two officers before the investigation had concluded. That sounds less like keeping a commitment to all of the communities of Atlanta and more of a case of pandering to mob action. If the GBI finds something very different at the end of their process, then the DA isn’t going to have much of a case — and if he sticks with it, Atlanta might find itself with a dismantled PD without having defunded it at all.