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A closer look at the “Blue Flu”: More than half of Atlanta’s beat cops missed work after ex-officer charged with murder of Rayshard Brooks

Sean Keenan
Protests in Atlanta. (Credit: Sean Keenan)

By Sean Keenan

Soon after Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced felony murder charges would be brought against former Atlanta Police officer Garrett Rolfe, the man who shot and killed 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks outside an intown Wendy’s restaurant, most of the mobile troops on the city’s police force didn’t show up for their shifts. 

It was the so-called “Blue Flu.” Atlanta police called out of work in staggering numbers in an apparent protest against the legal response to Rolfe’s June 12 interaction with Brooks. More than 61 percent of Atlanta beat cops missed work on June 17, the day Howard brought charges against Rolfe, and more than 65 percent were absent on June 18. By June 19, the demonstration started to taper off, with about 51 percent calling out then and about 33 percent gone on June 20, according to APD roll call documents from the department’s six police zones.

Many officers excused their absence at roll call as holiday or vacation time; others claimed sickness or personal issues, among other reasons. It’s unclear exactly how many officers abandoned their shifts in protest, although Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant admitted the amount of officers calling in sick was “higher than average.”

The numbers, however, show a reality far more severe.

More than 96 percent of the Zone 6 morning shift on June 18 was absent. On June 19, the Zone 5 day shift was more than 86 percent deserted. The morning prior, roughly 82 percent of Zone 3 police missed work. 

Zone 6 seemed the most impacted by the strike, averaging more than 20 officers absent during each shift between June 17 and June 20. To put that in perspective, the typical zone staffs about 31 officers per shift, according to the roll call records. 

Police officials have not yet responded to an inquiry regarding whether officers are showing up in normal numbers now.

The supposed protest spotlights a growing divide between police who see abruptly charging Rolfe with murder as an affront to the profession and those who hope to see departments’ funding diminished and their staff better trained. Additionally, Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials said they were blindsided by the charges pushed by Howard, and that their own investigation is ongoing. 

The days when officers called out en masse also followed the resignation of Police Chief Erika Shields, who stepped down the day after Brooks was killed and condemned the actions of the officers involved.

“The police morale has been extraordinarily low since the recent indictments,” Atlanta Police Foundation spokesman Robert Baskin told SaportaReport in a recent interview, adding that officers were already under “extraordinary pressure because of the coronavirus.” He also said police have been under “verbal assault” and have allegedly been attacked during the recent spate of Black Lives Matter protests.

Many officers believe Rolfe “was not given due process before being terminated,” Baskin continued. “Nobody is saying this case should not be investigated; it absolutely should be investigated.” 

Trust in local law enforcement, though, must be restored, especially as Atlanta witnesses a recent uptick in violent crime, Baskin said, nodding to a series of shootings that took place over the weekend. “There’s been a sense of lawlessness in town that’s occurred in the last few weeks,” he said.

“Thirty-four people were victims of gun violence over the July 4 holiday weekend alone,” Baskin said. “In June, 19 murders occurred, and 64 shooting incidents resulted in 94 shooting victims, 19 of whom died. It was the bloodiest month in Atlanta in 17 years.”

The hours and days that followed Howard pressing charges against Rolfe also comprised unsubstantiated complaints on social media of officers and dispatchers not responding to 911 calls. Police officials assured people on Twitter that “We have enough resources to maintain operations and remain able to respond to incidents.” Reports of silent police scanners, however, ran rampant then, too.

What comes next in this saga is yet unclear, but the court battles over the fates of Rolfe and his then-partner Officer Devin Brosnan, who was charged with aggravated assault and two violations of his oath of office, promise further spectacle. 

Here is a spreadsheet that summarizes the information from the roll call documents: 

Here are the roll call documents provided by APD officials: 

(Header image, via Sean Keenan: An Atlanta Police car bashed during the early days of the Black Lives Matter protests.)

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Disgusted Citizen July 7, 2020 9:15 am

    Send the thugs over to Paul Howards house and see who he callsReport

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    gloria July 7, 2020 9:24 am

    I want to know why Brooks’ write up did not say he was in a parking lot and not driving on the public streets of ATL. He lived very nearby with his sister and the police COULD have walked him home. They had his driver’s license and had patted him down to see he was unarmed. MAYBE Brook’s was passed out because his blood sugar was low (just saying). He was heavy and may have been diabetic…who knows? He blew a number “over the limit” into the alcohol machine so the police say, but this young man was cooperative up until; the point he was being roughly handled to be Zip-Tied to be taken downtown! AFTER seeing & knowing FULLY what happens to young black males in America…it was like you could see his FIGHT or FLIGHT went to his brain and he tried to escape DEATH. Why the officer did not have control of his TAZZER was not Brook’s fault. He did what I feel I would have done and tried to escape THE ENEMY. Police used to be around to aid and preserve our lives but that is not what Brooks had been seeing!!! HE ASKED to just go to his sister’s house…help me in so many words, but no, the police seemed intent on making his life very unhappy that night. The POLICEMAN was angry that Brooks took and used the very weapon on him as he tried to use on Brooks…because he blew a number in a parking lot? THEY could have walked him home and impounded his car. A reasonable request and police would have appreciated if their kid had been in Brook’s shoes that night!!! Everyone assumed he was DRUNK and passed out, but just maybe we have a virus that we have been told to stay inside and Brook’s may have been hungry, and as diabetic became disoriented and fell asleep in line to get FOOD he may not have had at HOME! WE DO Not KNOW because that was never investigated. Everyone from Wendy’s worker who called the police reported sight unseen that he was “maybe drunk” OR maybe in a coma///just saying he could have been SICK.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Concerned American July 7, 2020 10:19 am

    Obviously you did not see who the aggressor was. Fighting was something he did per his police record of violence and abuse against his children, although it didn’t mention if he beat his girlfriend too, which they have to take into consideration. He could have called an Uber from the bar he could have walked without putting others in danger.
    After he violently attacked the officers and ran with the taser, he could have kept on running but he wasn’t done fighting. People in normal jobs (up until the rioting) feel pretty safe at work but police officers are literally on the battlefield every shift. Had the first officer not called in backup, the officer would have surely had a different outcome to the resistance of arrest. But that wouldn’t have made the news. Police aren’t humans putting their lives and futures with their loved ones on the line daily for little pay, they are the enemy of the criminal minded people out there who were probably raised by people who didn’t feel the need to teach them better and that doesn’t just include the parents, it only takes 1 good role model to change the path of a young persons life before the decide it’s okay to beat your family. Up to the point of no return he was just a drunk guy in a parking lot, yes, but he knew he had a criminal record showing cause that may put him back in prison and then he initiated the violence instead of just sitting it out at the police station until a sober person came to get him, which I have done for countless friends and family over the years ending in nothing for them but a hangover and another funny story for me.
    I raised all of my children to adulthood to not label people and judge only by character but I also taught them it’s okay to question authority but respect them as such. People need to start using their minds and not turn to violence and hate just because it’s easier and tends better on their social media. Ridiculous.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Willy July 8, 2020 6:03 pm

    Everyone keeps talking about this so called war on police. how come no one talks about the genocide the police commit against black people?Report

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      W Johan July 9, 2020 4:03 am

      Police genocide against black people? What a freaking joke. How many people in Chicago, NYC, or Baltimore were ‘genocided’ by police over the July 4th weekend?Report

      Reply
    2. Avatar
      Dime July 10, 2020 4:37 pm

      Genocide? Blacks account for 27% of arrests (including 37% of violent crime and 53% of murder) yet account for 24% of shooting victims. The data suggests blacks are LESS likely to be shot than whites.

      The issue is, academia, the media, and black culture lying to young black men that they are being hunted. White kids are taught to respect the police while blacks kids are taught to fear them. The biological response to fear is fight or flight, both of which get you in trouble.

      Until our culture stops lying to blacks that “the police are out to get them,” this will keep happening. It’s not the LEOs who need retraining, it’s young blacks who need it.Report

      Reply

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