Yes and No.
In recent weeks, the death of George Floydhas sparked a national discussion about racism and the inequalities and injustices that Black Americans face as a result of the color of their skin. Police brutality, specifically racially biased policing, is at the center of this discussion.Therefore, it is not surprising that, when Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officerless than a month after the death of George Floyd, many Americans blamed the police officers’ racial biases for Mr. Brooks’ death.
Racism undoubtedly exists in the criminal justice system, from policing to prosecution, where people of color are disproportionately apprehended and incarcerated. However, the existence of racism within the system cannot be mistaken for the belief that every person employed by the system is racist. In the same way, the killing of a Black American by a police officer cannot always be attributed to racism or even racial biases. It is important to acknowledge the stark differences between the George Floyd case and the Rayshard Brooks case.
The Case Against Derek Chauvin
Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer,kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, ultimately killing him in front of a crowd of onlookers. George Floyd presented no threat to this officer and should not have endured the brutal treatment that led to his death. Police officers across the country have condemned Derek Chauvin’s unjustified apprehension tactics. Chauvin clearly abused his power which warrants the conclusion that his actions were racially motivated.
The Case Against Garrett Rolfe
Garrett Rolfe, an Atlanta police officer, shot and killed Rayshard Brooks after Brooks resisted arrest and stole a Taser from one of the arresting officers. Rayshard Brooks spent over 45 minutes with the arresting officers, as they conducted DUI roadside protocol. When the officers attempted to handcuff Brooks, he fought them off, grabbed one of the officer’s Taser, and ran away.
Debates over whether or not Rolfe was justified in shooting Brooks surround the fact that Brooks was running away. Many believe that an individual cannot pose a threat to law enforcement if they are running away. However, as Brooks was running away, he turned and seemed to be pointing the Taser at Rolfe. In a split-second reaction, Rolfe reached for his gun and shot Brooks. The Taser presented a threat to Rolfe, his partner, and surrounding witnesses. Police officers are justified in shooting an individual who presents a threat not only to themselves but to innocent bystanders. While a tragic incident, the killing of Rayshard Brooks is not an example of racial discrimination but rather an officer who made the wrong split-second decision.
As criminal defense attorneys, we have witnessed the injustices Black Americans experience at the hand of law enforcement.Tune in next week to learn Guy Fronstin’s answer to eliminating racism among law enforcement officers.