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Rayshard Brooks struggled in system but didn’t hide his past

ATLANTA (AP) – Rayshard Brooks didn’t hide his historical past.

About 5 months earlier than he was kil-led by Atlanta police in a Wendy’s car parking zone – earlier than his identify and case would change into the most recent rallying level in an enormous name for racial justice and equality nationwide – Brooks gave an interview to an advocacy group about his years of wrestle in the prison justice system. He described an agonizing cycle of job rejection and public disgrace over his report and affiliation with a system that takes tens of millions of Americans, a lot of them Black like him, away from their households and treats them extra like animals than people.

“That’s a hard feeling to stomach,” he informed the group Reconnect, as he lamented the dearth of assist, each in pri-son and as soon as launched. “Once you get in there, you know, you’re just in debt. … I’m out now, and I have to try to fend for myself … clueless of everything that’s been going on, I don’t know, I’m trying to adapt back to society.”

When he died June 12, Brooks appeared to lastly be gaining firmer footing, relations and pals say. He was working to assist his spouse, three daughters and stepson. He deliberate ultimately to maneuver to Ohio, the place he’d just lately spent months attending to know his father and was an lively and supportive co-worker at a building firm. Those near him described him as at all times pleased and smiling, able to do something – a foolish dance or a cook-off – to make folks snicker or defuse any tense state of affairs.

He was a full-time carpenter and was regaining his children’ belief, even beginning to reply their questions on his time incarce-rated, he mentioned in the February Reconnect video.

“I feel good about myself,” he mentioned, smiling and rocking in his chair, desirous to share his story.

Family was a continuing in his life. In 2014, he despatched a plaintive, handwritten letter to a Georgia choose pleading to be free of ja-il to look after his family members. Without his revenue from working full time in trucking, his spouse was scuffling with a brand new job and care of their children, and she or he needed to borrow cash from a pal to get by, Brooks defined.

“Before I was arrested,” he wrote, “my job and home were the only things I was about, trying to feed my family. The kids are starting school back this upcoming August, and they’re going to need things to start back with such as uniforms, color pencils, line paper, notepads. … So I’m asking by chance if you could grant me some probation if possible, and I promise that you will never have to worry about me coming before you ever again for anything.”

In the years that adopted, although, he remained tangled in “the system,” as he known as it in the Reconnect video. By the time he was kil-led, he had fallen behind on courtroom funds, been sentenced to extra time behind bars, and been required to put on an ankle monitor.

The weekend he died, Brooks, 27, had deliberate to take his oldest daughter skating for her birthday. Instead, sporting a shiny shirt with the phrases “Rainbows, Unicorns, Weekends,” 8-year-old Blessen joined family members at a information convention.

Gymaco Brooks recalled laughing over drinks with his cousin every week and a half earlier than he died. Rayshard Brooks reassured him he was staying out of hassle. The household had grown up shut, Gymaco Brooks mentioned: “We could argue. We could fight. We could sleep 10 to one bed growing up, with feet and heads and arms across each other. … We didn’t have a lot of anything, but we had a whole lot of love for each other.”

His mother-in-law, Rochelle Gooden, recalled how he cared for his family members and beloved her like a mom. The two would have barbecue challenges – one time, she mentioned, Brooks ate some lamb, but she insisted, “You know what, I don’t eat lamb.” As he completed, he teased her: “Baaaa!’”

In his 2014 letter to the choose, Brooks described how household helped him focus.

“When I’m down, my wife makes me happy. I feel invincible when we are together,” he wrote. He and Tomika Miller have been married June 14, 2013, three days after Blessen’s first birthday: “Truly I can say that was the loveliest day of all the twenty one years I have been breathing.”

At the general public viewing the day earlier than Brooks‘ fune-ral, Miller wore a white gown with a photograph of the 2 of them printed throughout it.

“It’s going to be a long time before I heal. It’s going to be a long time before this family heals,” she informed reporters after his dea-th, her voice cracking and one among her younger daughters in her arms.

In 2018, Brooks traveled to Toledo, Ohio, and met his father for the primary time. Brooks stayed with him and his sister when he arrived.

“He loved it up here,” Brooks’ father, Larry Barbine, mentioned in a phone interview. “He was like, ‘This is the life I want to live. This is where I want to be.’”

Within just a few months, Brooks made that occur: He moved to Toledo, although he knew nearly nobody there, having grown up in Georgia. He discovered work with a building firm and acquired his personal condominium. He didn’t have a background in the business but shortly picked up no matter was thrown his means, mentioned Ambrea Mikolajczyk, who owns ARK Restoration & Construction along with her husband.

“It didn’t matter if he was cleaning something or learning how to tile or paint; he brought that same energy, always cheerful and bright,” she mentioned. “People fed off his energy.”

He made his new pals at work snicker by dancing to the nation rap tune “Old Town Road.” He rode his bike to work, regardless of the climate, as soon as stopping to stroll with a co-worker whose automotive had damaged down. “That’s the type of man Ray was,” mentioned Mikolajczyk, who traveled to Georgia for his fune-ral.

Brooks thrived in Ohio. His father mentioned he taught him learn how to fish and took him sledding for the primary time.

In January, Georgia authorities introduced Brooks again to the state on a fugitive warrant alleging he did not notify them of his deal with and full a theft prevention class as his probation required.

It traced again to 2014, when he pleaded responsible to home violence, theft and different expenses. Prosecutors mentioned he twisted the wrist of his spouse. In his letter to the choose, Brooks known as it a “minor disagreement.” His spouse couldn’t go to him in ja-il as a result of she was the sufferer, but they talked on the cellphone and she or he despatched him meals, he mentioned. The children gave her a tough time in his absence, he wrote.

But Brooks was the “primary aggressor” in one other incident, this one witnessed by a baby, resulting in a baby cruelty cost, in response to a grand jury report. He pleaded responsible and was sentenced to a yr behind bars and 6 years of probation.

And in 2016, he pleaded responsible to bank card theft, for an additional yearlong sentence.

When officers introduced him again to Georgia, he owed $219.21 in courtroom funds and spent 19 days in ja-il earlier than he was launched on probation, courtroom data present.

He’d been out for almost six months when officers approached him at Wendy’s, the place he was asleep inside a automotive blocking the drive-thru lane. Body-camera video confirmed Brooks and officers having a relaxed, cooperative dialog for greater than 40 minutes. A wrestle erupted when police tried to handcuff Brooks for being intoxicated behind the wheel.

Brooks mentioned he didn’t need to be “in violation of anybody” and informed the officers he might stroll dwelling. He informed officers he’d been with a girlfriend named Natalie White that evening. White would later be charged with arson in the hearth that engulfed the Wendy’s as protesters outraged by Brooks‘ dea-th gathered there. White’s lawyer has declined to touch upon their relationship, saying solely that they have been shut.

Officer Garrett Rolfe, 27, fatally shot Brooks after he grabbed one of many police Tasers and fired it at Rolfe as he ran away. Rolfe is charged with mur-der. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, 26, is charged with aggravated assault. Lawyers for the boys, each white, say their purchasers’ actions have been justified.

In Ohio, household and colleagues have been heartbroken. Brooks had stayed in contact with ARK Restoration and talked of returning there for work as soon as he might transfer to Toledo with his household, Mikolajczyk mentioned. Upon seeing the headlines, one shocked consumer known as her, asking: “Is this our Ray?”

Brooks‘ father celebrates their time collectively but grieves for a stolen future.

“Life was short for us,” he mentioned. “Life was very short for us, getting to know each other.”

___

Seewer reported from Toledo, Ohio. Associated Press author Kate Brumback in Atlanta and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed.

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