Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was wrong Sunday, on “Face the Nation,” when he said of Brooks’s killing: “That situation is certainly a far less clear one than the ones that we saw with George Floyd and several other ones around the country.”
The ifs, ands and buts of the Brooks case should not be seen as mitigating factors but as counts in the indictment of a system that treats African Americans — and black men especially — as less than fully human.
If only Brooks hadn’t been so inebriated. Drunken driving is a very serious offense. The police officers were absolutely right to respond, and they had a duty to make sure that Brooks didn’t drive off and put the lives of innocent motorists or pedestrians in jeopardy — a duty that can be accomplished by means other than shooting a person who is tipsy to the point of sleepiness.
If only Brooks had been compliant. But he did comply with the officers’ instructions when they managed to rouse him and ask him to move the car into a parking spot.
But when they asked him questions about where he had been and how much he had drunk, his answers were all over the map. This is hardly nefarious: Brooks was drunk, disoriented and facing not only arrest but also potential loss of his driver’s license.
But he failed a sobriety test — just like any human being in his condition would have failed the test. Brooks was clearly in the wrong, and the officers had the right to take him into custody.
But when the officers tried to arrest Brooks, he resisted. Even though watching footage doesn’t allow us to read minds, it’s pretty clear from the video that Brooks panicked. We’ll never know why. But I know that whenever I’ve been pulled over by police, I’ve felt a frisson of panic at the prospect of being thrown into the maw of a criminal justice system that treats black men like inventory in a vast warehouse of horrors. That doesn’t excuse resisting arrest, though, and by doing so, Brooks clearly escalated the situation.
But during the struggle that ensued, Brooks took the officer’s Taser. And Brooks started running away. And he fired the Taser back in the pursuing officer’s direction, missing him by a mile.
Taking Brooks’s life isn’t a reasonable response to this wild flight. It’s as senseless — and as racist — as Derek Chauvin’s decision to lean on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Driving while intoxicated is not a capital crime. The officers had already ascertained that Brooks was not carrying a firearm of any kind. A Taser is not a lethal weapon, even if Brooks had been able to use it effectively.
The officers had Brooks’s car, so he couldn’t have become a menace on the highways. They knew who he was and where he lived. They could have written up a report, obtained an arrest warrant and taken him into custody the following day, at which point he would have been, if not sober, less disoriented.
Instead, former officer Garrett Rolfe — he was fired almost immediately after the incident — withdrew his police handgun and shot Brooks twice in the back. “I got him,” Rolfe reportedly said in triumph. Brooks, who was 27, lay dying.
How often are white Americans killed by police for falling asleep in their cars at fast-food restaurants? Or for paying for items in a store with a bogus $20 bill, as Floyd allegedly did? Or for minding their own business in their own homes, like Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death during a no-knock raid? Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, murdered nine innocent African Americans at Mother Emanuel AME Church, and police managed to capture him alive. Brooks wounded a police officer’s pride and appears to have been executed for it.
Brooks’s encounter with the police was complicated, but whether his killing is justified is not “less clear.” Black lives are still disposable. And as long as there is no justice, there must be no peace.