Atlanta police chief resigns after officer fatally shoots black man

Atlanta’s police chief has resigned after a white officer fatally shot a black man, in an incident that came as Americans continued to protest systemic racism and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd.

Keisha Lance Bottoms, the African-American mayor of Atlanta, on Saturday said Chief Erika Shields had resigned following the death on Friday night of Rayshard Brooks, 27, outside a Wendy’s restaurant in the capital of Georgia.

Brooks’ death comes less than three weeks after Floyd died when a white officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes as he screamed: “I can’t breathe”. He was one of a long line of African-Americans killed by white officers. In response, the US has seen its most widespread demonstrations since the civil rights movement in the 1960s over the past three weeks.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said the officer shot Brooks as he fled the scene with a stun gun he had taken from officers trying to arrest him after he failed a sobriety test. It said police had been called to the Wendy’s restaurant because Brooks was sleeping in a car blocking the drive-through lane.

While the shooting in Atlanta was still being investigated, it sparked new calls for restraint on the use of deadly force by police.

Stacey Abrams, former Democratic minority leader in Georgia’s House of Representatives who is a contender to become Joe Biden’s running mate in November’s presidential election, said the death underscored the need to restrict the use of deadly force.

“Yes, investigations must be called for — but so too should accountability,” Ms Abrams tweeted. “Sleeping in a drive-through must not end in death.”

Ms Bottoms said on Saturday: “Chief Shields has offered to immediately step aside as police chief so that the city move forward with urgency in rebuilding the trust so desperately needed throughout our community.”

Ms Bottoms, who is another contender to serve as Mr Biden’s running mate, called for the firing of the officer who shot Brooks.

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) had called for the chief to be fired over the incident. “The Atlanta police department continues to terrorise protesters and murder unarmed Black bodies. It’s time for new leadership and a change of policing culture.”

The antiracism awakening has triggered a debate about the use of racist symbols, including statues and other tributes to Confederate soldiers who fought to defend slavery in the Civil War. It has also rekindled debate about whether athletes should be free to protest by kneeling during the national anthem. 

President Donald Trump on Saturday said he would no longer watch the national soccer teams after US Soccer overturned a requirement for players to stand during the national anthem. 

“I won’t be watching much any more!,” he tweeted, hours after telling military cadets at West Point that the army had been “at the forefront of ending the terrible injustice of segregation”. 

US Soccer introduced the rule in 2017 after Megan Rapinoe, a star player on the female national team, knelt during the anthem to support Colin Kaepernick, the African-American football player whose kneeling at games had popularised the tactic. 

The National Football League last week apologised for its previous stance on kneeling at American football games, saying the organisation believes “Black Lives Matter”.

The issue has become wrapped up in Washington partisan warfare, with conservatives saying political correctness has gone too far, and liberals retorting that Republicans are failing to recognise the problem of systemic racism in the US. 

This week, Mr Trump vowed to block any move by the Pentagon to rename a number of military bases, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, that are named after Confederate generals.

Mr Trump has also come under intense criticism for his response to the protests in the wake of Floyd’s death. 

While he has remained defiant in defending his use of racist rhetoric, Mr Trump on Friday agreed to push back a rally in Tulsa that had been planned for June 19, the anniversary of the end of slavery. The president originally refused to shift the date following criticism of the move, but reversed course.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi