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‘Blue flu’ hits Atlanta as police unions reckon with the prospect of reform

Officers protest murder charges in police shooting of Rayshard Brooks as unions go on the defensive

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Interim Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant speaks to The Associated Press on Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Atlanta. On Saturday, June 13, rormer Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned after an officer fatally shot Rayshard Brooks after a struggle in a Wendy’s restaurant parking lot.

Brynn Anderson, Associated Press

Police officers and their unions are beginning to reckon with a growing national movement for police reform, from the Senate to labor councils in Seattle and the streets of Atlanta, where some officers stayed home this week to protest charges against two white officers in the death of a black man.

That boycott comes during weeks of national protests against police brutality and systemic racism often calling to defund police departments after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.

Atlanta’s ‘blue flu’

In Atlanta, some police officers called out sick with the “blue flu” Wednesday evening and Thursday in protest of charges against the two white officers involved in the deadly shooting of a black man last week.

Officer Garrett Rolfe, who was fired after last Friday’s shooting, was charged Wednesday with felony murder and 10 other counts in the death of Rayshard Brooks and could facethe death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted, Atlanta’s Fox 5 reported. Officer Devin Brosnan, who is on administrative leave, was charged with aggravated assault and three counts of violating his oath as an officer.

The Atlanta Police Department said on Wednesday and Thursday that they were still responding to emergency calls during the call offs.

A regional spokesman for the Atlanta police officers union — the International Brotherhood of Police Officers — told The New York Times that the union did not orchestrate the protest.

“As a union,we do not support or start the ‘blue flu,’” the spokesman said. Although the union had denounced charging the officers, according to The New York Times.

Rolfe and Brosnan encountered Brooks in southeast Atlanta where he was allegedly found asleep in a car blocking a Wendy’s drive-thru. Body camera, cruiser and additional footage shows the officers speaking with Brooks for 40 minutes before attempting to arrest him after he he fails a field sobriety test. A struggle ensues. Brooks manages to take Brosnan’s taser and begins to run off while firing the taser back at the officers. Rolfe gives chase, fires his own taser at Brooks and then fires his pistol at Brooks three times. Prosecutors said Wednesday that Rolfe then kicked the dying man.

The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Brooks died of organ damage and blood loss fromtwo gunshot wounds in his back, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“I firmly believe that there is adistinction between what you can do and what you should do,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said after the shooting. “I do not believe that this was a justified use of deadly force.”

Police Chief Erika Shields resigned after the shooting.

Police union booted

In Washington state, the Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council voted Wednesday to remove the Seattle Police Officers Guild from the council, The Seattle Times reported. The labor council is a member of the the national American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a massive network of national and and international labor unions.

“In the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, we believe that there can be no justice without racial justice. Any union that is part of our labor council needs to be actively working to dismantle racism in their institution and society at large,” Nicole Grants, the council’s executive secretary-treasurer, said in a statement. 

“Unfortunately, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild has failed to do that work and are no longer welcome in our council,” she continued. 

Before Wednesday’s vote, Mike Solan, president of the officer’s guild, said the guild would like to stay involved with the council of unions, according to The Seattle Times.

“We understand that we’ve probably taken more from the council than we actually have given and what that does is illustrate that we’re professionals and we’re willing to learn,” Solan said. 

Defending police

Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes testified before the Senate judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday regarding “Police Use of Force and Community Policing.” The president of the country’s largest law enforcement union began his testimony by saying he was “shocked and horrified by the tragic death of George Floyd.”

“The Fraternal Order of Police has full confidence in our criminal justice system and I believe justice will be served,” he added. 

Yoes went on to say he rejected the idea that the nation’s problems with police are somehow related to law enforcement unions. He encouraged Congress to adapt the use of force principles developed by nearly a dozen of the country’s largest law enforcement unions and contended that those principles could have prevented Floyd’s death. 

Finally, he argued that police today are asked to be a catch-all for a gamut of community services for which police officers are not trained. 

“Police officers are often expected to be therapists, marriage counselors, addiction specialists, mental health experts, homeless advocates and spiritual advisers,” said Yoes.

“When you call law enforcement, you should expect a law enforcement response,” he said.