On Tuesday, Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old in the foster care system, was fatally shot by a police officer responding to a 911 call in Columbus, Ohio.
In the 911 call at 4:32, there is screaming and the caller says someone is trying to stab them and asks for the police to come. The caller hung up before dispatch could collect more information.
Officer Nicholas Reardon was the first officer on the scene and has been identified as who shot Bryant.
In an unprecedented move, the police body camera video footage was released just hours later to promote transparency. In the footage, we can see multiple people in front of the house in the driveway. Bryant pursues another young woman who falls backward near the officer. Bryant then turned and approached another young woman, who was backed up against a parked car. The footage shows Bryant swing the knife at her.
Reardon is then heard repeating “Get down” before firing his weapon. Four shots are heard, and Bryant falls to the ground. Medical aid was given to Bryant immediately until the paramedics arrived and took her to the hospital, where she died at 5:21pm.
The Official Response
Interim Columbus Police Chief Michael Woods placed Officer Reardon on administrative leave. He said a public records process is underway to release the full video. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) has also opened an inquiry into the case.
The city's public safety director, Ned Pettus, Jr., asked the public to remain calm while the investigation is underway.
"Fast, quick answers cannot come at the cost of accurate answers," Pettus said. "BCI will conduct a fully independent investigation, which will be made public. If an officer has violated policy or the law, if they have, they will be held accountable."
"Fast, quick answers cannot come at the cost of accurate answers."
Mayor Andrew Ginther commented that the initial review of the body camera footage appeared to show that the officer who opened fire "took action to protect another young girl in our community."
"But another young girl will still not be coming home tonight," Ginther said. "I ask everyone to pray for peace. Tonight, we pray for this family, we pray for this city, and we pray for our neighbors."
Ginther also said that Bryant's death highlights issues in the Columbus community: "The fact that we had a 16-year-old armed and involved in physical violence, that’s something for us to look in the mirror and say, 'What are we doing? What else can we be doing?"'
A Neighbor’s Commentary
Donavon Brinson, who lives across the street from Bryant’s foster home, saw some people come out of that house and heard the ruckus, but dismissed it as a girl fight. After the incident ended, he remembered he had security camera on his garage and watched the footage. Brinson “saw the fight, saw the glint of the knife.” Brinson said that everything “happened so fast” that he “didn't see how the officer could have time to have done anything else.”
"If the officer hadn't done what he did, I think we'd have two girls dead," he said. "It was violent and all just happened so fast."
"If the officer hadn't done what he did, I think we'd have two girls dead."
Tasers vs Firearms
This incident continues the nation’s examination of law enforcement’s use of force policies and training, as well as the question of if using a taser is a better alternative than a firearm.
Interim Police Chief Woods stated that firearms training dictates that an officer fires until the threat is over, and that the use of force is authorized if the safety of the officer or a third person is jeopardized.
CNN’s Don Lemon's commentary ran along similar lines: “We’ve got to be fair about what happens when police arrive at scenes....It is tragic that it’s a 16-year-old girl...When police are chasing people they don’t know how old they are. And they don’t run and say ‘Hey, how old are you?’ They roll up on a scene they see people tussling around, someone has a knife, and their job is to protect and serve every life on that scene. They see someone who is in the process of taking a life. What is that decision?"
Lemon added, "And I know that people say well you could do, this you could do that. Tasers don’t work the way guns work, not at that distance...Tasers, they don’t always connect.”
As the investigation is still underway, the public can’t know the full context of this incident. But from the body camera footage, it’s pretty clear that another teenage girl was in danger, perhaps fatally. This — and all cases of police shooting — should be reported on fairly, without race-baiting and propagandizing the event.