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Rayshard Brooks Spoke About Criminal Justice Reform Months Before Police Killed Him

Despite the hardships he faced, he's smiling and optimistic throughout.

Rayshard Brooks died at the hands of an Atlanta police officer, but his death was not the first time he had been the victim of the criminal justice system. He had been arrested before and was on probation, meaning that any police interaction — even for falling asleep in his car — would mean a near-automatic return to jail. It’s pretty awful.

Brooks had a lot of thoughts about the deficiencies of this system, and he shared them just a few months ago in an interview with Reconnect, a startup that seeks to use technology to make the probation system more efficient and humane.

The video is difficult to watch now — his massive smile and optimism in spite of it all unbelievably sad — but his thoughts on the deficiencies of the system are spot on. For one, he spends a lot of time on how dehumanizing it is.

“I just feel like some of the system could, you know, look at us as individuals,” he said. “It’s just a mistake that we made, you know, and not just do us as if we are animals.”

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Brooks, a happily married father of three, also spoke about the harm being done to the family that now has to go on without him.

“It’s hurting us, but it’s hurting our family the most. You know, because we have kids, we have jobs. We have a lot of things that, you know—life situations…So as we go through these trials and tribulations, it’s hurting our kids, and it’s taking away from our families.”

Brooks discusses the impossible demands of probation, with the pressure of following the rules and making enough money to pay bills in tension with his understandable desire to spend time with his kids

“It’s just a lot of pressure, you know, with just having all of that on your shoulder and on your back. It’s just a lot of pressure and some people, they just can’t deal with it.”

But ultimately, what Brooks really wants isn’t a less involved probation officer—it’s a more involved probation officer.

“Probation [officers are] not there with you everyday, like a mentor or something. They’re not taking you out to find a job. I feel like it should be a way for you to have some kind of person, like a mentor, assigned to you to keep your track, keep you in the direction to need to be going.”

The video ends on a particularly sad note, with Brooks expressing hope for himself and his future that would not come to pass.

But here, yet, I’m trying. I’m not the type of person to give up. I’ma keep going until I make it to where I want to be.”