ATLANTA – Family and friends remembered Rayshard Brooks Tuesday in a private funeral service, one day after hundreds of mourners passed through Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church to pay tribute in a public viewing.

The funeral also took place at the church where Martin Luther King Jr. worshipped. Brooks will be buried in Atlanta.

“It’s very overwhelming and it’s something that I feel like in my heart should not have happened,” said Glenda Caruthers, who stood outside Ebenezer on Tuesday before the funeral started. “I may not even know him, but it seems like I do in a way. It saddens my heart, but things like this keep happening in our world today. I’m hoping and praying that there is a change coming so that nothing else like this happens again.”

The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, eulogized Brooks. Gospel singers Smokie Norful, Tamela Mann and Kurt Carr were expected to perform.

King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, also planned to deliver remarks, and a video montage tribute recorded by Yolanda Adams is expected to take place.

“Rayshard Brooks wasn’t just running from the police. He was running from a system that makes slaves out of people,” Warnock plans to say in the eulogy, according to a press release. “A system that doesn’t give ordinary people who’ve made mistakes a second chance, a real shot at redemption.”

Public viewing: Mourners pay tribute to Rayshard Brooks at public viewing in Atlanta

What we know: Timeline of Rayshard Brooks’ death, protests and fallout from incident at Atlanta Wendy’s

Brooks, who was the father of three young girls and a teen stepson, is being remembered as a “girl dad” by his loved ones, according to a release. He died hours after celebrating one daughter’s eighth birthday. Brooks’ death came just weeks after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which led to nationwide outrage and protests over racial justice. 

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Outside the church on Tuesday, a Jumbotron was placed in front of the bell tower of the church and will stream the funeral. A livestream was also be offered for those around the country who wish to observe online.

“I was surprised that it happened,” said Kandace McCoy, who is a member of the Dominion City Decatur church congregation in Decatur, Georgia, where Brooks’ wife Tomika Miller is also a member.  

“I was surprised that it actually hit close to home. I didn’t know that it would be somebody that we actually knew because it’s always in other states. I was very surprised, however, good things still come from situations like this. That’s what we’re hoping for, that God will work everything out for the good. And He will.”

Brooks’ family attorney, L. Chris Stewart, said last week that comedian and actor Tyler Perry will be paying for the funeral costs. 

Brooks was a 27-year-old Black man whom a former Atlanta police officer fatally shot June 12, after responding to a call about a call about a man being asleep in his car while in line at a Wendy’s drive-thru.

Brooks failed a sobriety test and was being handcuffed when he struggled to get away from police. Video from the scene shows Brooks fleeing with an officer’s Taser when an officer shoots him from behind. The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Brooks’ death a homicide.

Brooks was not among the congregation’s 6,000 members, but his death sparked protests in Atlanta and beyond. Within days of the shooting, Police Chief Erika Shields stepped down from her post, officer Garrett Rolfe was fired and charged with 11 counts, including felony murder, and officer Devin Brosnan was placed on administrative duty and faces three charges.

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For a community in mourning, the hope is that Brooks’ death won’t be in vain.

“As a believer in Christ, we know that there is eternal life, but this is a tough one, because it didn’t have to happen,” said Paul Thibodeaux, a pastor at Impact Church in Atlanta. “So the significance of this is we celebrate life, but I believe there’s a lot that we’re to learn from this, a lot that this country has to learn, a lot that this country needs to change.”

Founded in 1886, Ebenezer Baptist Church was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church for most of his life. His father was the pastor there for 44 years, and King served as co-pastor from 1960 until his assassination in 1968. The funeral for the civil rights leader was held at the historic church site. 

It is home to the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site and includes several buildings around the King home on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn district. 

Will Brooks’ death bring change? “I know it will,” McCoy said. “Not just his death, but the movement that’s going on right now in America, to bring more light to Black lives. It’s going to change because it’s already in effect.”

Contributing: Cara Kelly, Associated Press


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