Photo: Protesters mourn the police killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio. Liberation photo
Activists and community members gathered April 20 in Columbus to mourn the loss of another life at the hands of police. Just 20 minutes before Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict was announced to the nation, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot four times in the chest by officer Nicholas Reardon of the Columbus Police Department. Bryant was Black. She was in the care of Franklin County Children’s Services.
Columbus PD claim officers were responding to a call about a young woman with a knife. Witnesses on the scene say that Ma’Khia was being attacked and pulled out a knife to defend herself. In the state of Ohio, a weapons-reform law was recently passed legalizing the carrying of knives, brass knuckles and other handheld weapons. Ohio also recently passed a “stand your ground” law explicitly revoking any “duty to retreat” for a person who feels they are experiencing a legitimate threat to their physical safety. However, nothing in the Columbus PD’s handling of this situation reflects either of those new laws.
Body-cam footage released after the incident shows that Officer Nick Reardon made no attempt to de-escalate the situation. He arrived on the scene, saw a physical altercation, shouted and fired four shots. From the time Reardon closed his car door to when he fired the first shot at Ma’Khia, approximately 10 seconds had passed. Multiple witnesses also say they heard officers shouting “blue lives matter!“ after the shots were fired, in response to bystanders reproaching them for shooting a child. Bryant was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The murder of Ma’Khia Bryant is only the latest in a series of killings perpetrated by the Columbus PD, closely following the shooting of Miles Jackson in an emergency room, as well as the killings of Andre Hill and Casey Goodson, Jr. This is also not the first time a child has been a victim of the Columbus police. In 2016, Columbus police officers killed 13-year-old Tyre King by shooting him in the back.
Community activists in Columbus were preparing to mobilize the city’s residents in response to the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, regardless of the result. But they were not expecting to be met so soon with another police killing. Kimberly Shepherd, a resident of the neighborhood where the shooting took place, said to the Associated Press, “We were happy about the verdict. But you couldn’t even enjoy that, because as you’re getting one phone call that he’s guilty, I’m getting the next phone call that this is happening in my neighborhood.”
In addition to being the latest in a spree of deadly shootings committed by the police, Bryant’s story exposes the hypocrisy of “stand your ground” legislation. Who has the right to stand their ground? Witnesses on the scene reported that Ma’Khia Bryant was “standing her ground” against an attack. The State of Ohio is enforcing their “monopoly on violence” through the police. It seems to value the rights of white law enforcement to “stand their ground” against citizens over the rights of Black citizens to “stand their ground” against legitimate threats of physical harm.
Even if this was not a case of self-defense, police officers do not routinely shoot and kill armed white men. Examples of this include mass murderers like the perpetrator of the Charleston church shooting and this year’s Atlanta shooter. These killers were taken alive even after they were armed and killed people.
This hypocrisy was exemplified by the militarized response of the Columbus police. They gathered in riot gear to suppress the demonstration following the Chauvin trial. Protesters responded by moving the demonstration around the downtown area, occupying the intersection of Broad St. and High St.
“A guilty verdict doesn’t mean justice,” said a protester who wished to remain anonymous. “A guilty verdict didn’t stop them from murdering a child tonight. It’s not just Derek Chauvin. The whole system is guilty. They’re showing us that by the way they are treating us out here. They don’t know anything but violence.”