ATLANTA — Loved ones gathered at the former site of the Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks was shot by police to honor him on what would been his 29th birthday. Brooks was killed by Atlanta Police officer Garrett Rolfe at the fast-food chain that once stood at 125 University Ave SW.
The incident started as a traffic stop on June 12, 2020. Officers were called to a suspected DUI over complaints of a man asleep at the wheel near the Wendy's drive-thru line. Brooks had run from Rolfe after grabbing his Taser and discharging it back toward the officer, authorities said. The 27-year-old was then allegedly kicked and stepped on as he lay dying in the Wendy's parking lot.
On Monday, his widow, Tomika Miller said she will return to the spot every year to make sure his legacy never dies - and she hopes to keep his memory alive by creating a peace center for the greater community.
"Instead of another set of apartments here or another restaurant they would like to see something that would keep positive things in this community," Miller said about the area's support.
Brooks' family announced their intention for the site before a balloon release ceremony Monday afternoon, adding that the center could be a symbol for change.
The Wendy's that once stood there was set on fire in June 2020, following Brooks' death. The gutted property became both a location for intense protests and peace. In the days following the fire, armed people moved into the area and set up blockades making it difficult to get in and out of the neighborhood. Those barricades were later dismantled by police, and since, the location has become a spot for unity in the community. The property was eventually cleared out.
Miller said she has reached out to the governor and former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms about making the peace center a reality but hasn't made much progress.
"I don't know who else to reach out to but I'm hoping someone can reach out to me," she said. "But until then, we'll keep sending letters in, we'll keep reaching out to the new mayor."
Miller said Brooks was a father, a partner and is now a symbol of what still needs to be changed in Atlanta, adding that Rolfe should not have been reinstated as a police officer. With the city experiencing what seems like more violence, she said leaders have to do more.
"A lot has been going on in Atlanta," Miller said. "I just can't put my mind around some of the things that I've seen and the lives that have been taken just within the beginning of this year. It hurts."
Though the peace center is a goal for advocates and Miller's family, on Monday they said the true purpose of their presence was to remember Brooks and what he meant to them. With signs behind them calling on justice for Caine Rogers, Alexia Christian, Jamarion Robinson, the family and advocates lined up with white and black balloons in their hands as Brooks' daughters signed a birthday card for their father.
Singing happy birthday, Brooks' family released balloons.
"We love you," they chorused, waving the balloons goodbye.