Less than a week after the fatal shooting for Rayshard Brooks, Garrett Rolfe, the officer who pulled the trigger, was charged with felony murder. The second officer involved, Devin Brosnan, was charged with aggravated assault. In response to these and other charges against Rolfe, officers in the Atlanta Police Department are protesting by calling out sick en masse.
Hours after the murder charge was announced Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that several officers called out just before shift change, leaving the department scrambling to cover shifts. The department declined to say how many officers did not show up for work, though they “confirmed a larger-than-usual number of absent officers.” The protest also involved officers going radio-silent and refusing to respond to any calls except requests for backup. The police union confirmed the strike to NBC News, but said it wasn’t formal, union-organised walkout.
This move comes after Rolfe shot Brooks, who was unarmed, last week. Brooks, 27, had fallen asleep behind the wheel while in the drive thru line at Wendy’s. An employee of the fast food restaurant called the police, saying they believed him to be intoxicated. When police arrived on the scene, Brooks appeared to cooperate with the officers until he failed a sobriety test, at which point he grabbed one of the officer’s taser and tried to run away. According to prosecutors, Rolfe then fired at Brooks’ back and said, “I got him.” Rolfe allegedly kicked Brooks while he was on the ground and his partner, Brosnan, stood on his arm.
According to an announcement from the district attorney's office in Atlanta, Rolfe is facing a total of 11 charges related to the shooting and evidence compiled against him includes 10 witnesses and eight videos. Rolfe has a pattern of excessive force; his disciplinary history lists 12 incidents including a written reprimand in 2017 for a use-of-force incident involving a firearm from the year prior.
In a statement issued Monday, Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams stood by the use of deadly force, making the department's strike less-than-surprising. Police standing together behind the killer officer is exactly the problem Americans are protesting right now. In showing solidarity with an officer who shot an intoxicated man in the back and then kicked him while he was on the ground bleeding, police are actively disproving the “a few bad apples” argument that is trotted out when the system of policing is criticised. In siding with an officer who used lethal force against a man, they’re showing the entire bunch is spoiled, like Philadelphia officers did when they made “Bologna Strong” t-shirts after officer Joseph Bologna was charged with assaulting a protestor.
The more police officers choose to stand behind their colleagues for terrorising and murdering people in their community, the more they prove the arguments that it’s not just “one bad apple,” the police cannot be reformed, and the entire system needs to be defunded and abolished.