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Atlanta Police Chief Resigns


For the rest of this hour, we're going to be looking at policing in the United States. It's not the only subject of national protests that have been playing out over the last few weeks, but it's certainly at the heart of it. We're going to hear from police who tried to point out misconduct in their own departments. We'll take a look at the powerful police unions that protect and advocate for officers and who are also blamed for standing in the way of change. We're going to trace how policing has evolved through U.S. history and how it's been portrayed on television and why that matters.

But we're going to start with news from Atlanta, where the city's police chief has resigned less than 24 hours after Atlanta police killed a 27-year-old black man outside a fast food restaurant. Erika Shields had been a member of the Atlanta Police Department for 25 years and had led the force since 2016. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the chief's resignation this afternoon.


KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS: Chief Shields has offered to immediately step aside as police chief so that the city may move forward with urgency in rebuilding the trust so desperately needed throughout our communities.

MARTIN: Joining us now is NPR correspondent Quil Lawrence to tell us more. Quil, thanks for joining us.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Yeah, my pleasure.

MARTIN: What more can you tell us about the death of this man whose name was Rayshard Brooks?

LAWRENCE: Yes, he was 27 years old. Police were summoned around 10:30 Friday night after Brooks was apparently asleep in his car at a Wendy's drive-through. People had complained that he was blocking the drive-through. Police say he failed a sobriety test, and then he struggled with police and took one of their Tasers. You can see security surveillance video of this - shows him struggling with police and then being shot after he ran from police. And he died later at a hospital.

MARTIN: What has been the public reaction? I mean, Atlanta has been protesting police use of force for weeks, as have people in many, many other cities. What's been the reaction to this?

LAWRENCE: Right. I mean, you immediately saw protesters picking up his name on their signs and adding it to a long list of black men and women who'd been killed by police. NAACP and others began calling for the police chief to resign. The NAACP said this is not the first time a black man was killed for sleeping. And they said while Atlanta has often been called the black mecca, the Atlanta Police Department has a continued history of antagonizing our communities. And Atlanta's mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, seemed to acknowledge that in her remarks.


LANCE BOTTOMS: There has been a disconnect with what our expectations are and should be as it relates to interactions with our officers and the communities in which they are entrusted to protect.

MARTIN: And Quil, as briefly as you can - how does this fit in with protests around the country?

LAWRENCE: I think it just fits into this narrative of when people are asking, how can this still be going on? When is this going to stop? You hear Eric Garner dying saying I can't breathe. And then five years later, the same thing seems to happen in Minneapolis. Just this month, three white men were charged with killing a black jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, in February for jogging through the wrong neighborhood in Georgia.

MARTIN: And some of those men had connections...

LAWRENCE: People are just wondering when it's going to stop.

MARTIN: All right. That is NPR correspondent Quil Lawrence. Quil, thank you.

LAWRENCE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.