Hours after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on Tuesday, Media and activists tried to cram the police shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant into a pre-ordained narrative box, taking advantage of the incident’s proximity to Chauvin’s conviction to cast the shooting of an armed teenager, who was in the act of stabbing someone, as yet another example of the kind of brutality visited upon George Floyd.
Columbus police responded to a 911 call on Tuesday evening to find a group of teenage girls in a physical altercation in a suburban front yard. Body camera footage shows that an unnamed officer exited his vehicle and commanded the brawling girls to “get down” before shooting 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant four times. Freeze-frame images show that Bryant was swinging her knife toward another African-American girl in a pink sweatsuit as she was shot.
“She had a knife. She just ran at her,” the officer can be heard saying.
Hazel Bryant, who identified herself as the victim’s aunt, confirmed to The Columbus Dispatch that her niece did have a knife, but said she dropped it before being shot — an anecdote picked up and widely reported by national media, including the New York Times, before the body-camera footage had been released.
Screengrab from the Columbus bodycam video. Police & the mayor say the girl in black was attempting to stab the girl in pink. Officer shot the girl in black just after this.https://t.co/zrTpAPHH8B pic.twitter.com/FEnpFZwoOy
— Steve Lookner (@lookner) April 21, 2021
Columbus mayor Andrew J. Ginther, a Democrat, called the events “a horrible, heartbreaking situation” in a press conference, adding that the footage was quickly released in the interest of “transparency.”
“We know, based on this footage, the officer took action to protect another young girl in our community,” he said.
A number of mainstream headlines, all of which remain live more than twelve hours after the body camera footage was released, ignore what is arguably the most important detail about the incident: that Bryant was armed and in the process of assaulting someone when she was killed — and instead focus on Bryant’s race.
Axios: “Columbus police officer fatally shoots Black teenage girl”
Daily Beast: “Columbus Police Release Body Camera Footage of Fatal Shooting of Black Teen”
Slate: “A Black Teenage Girl Is Shot and Killed By Columbus Police”
NPR: “Columbus Police Shoot and Kill Black, Teenage Girl”
In fact, NPR even attached a disclaimer to its report stating that “This is a developing story. Some facts reported by the media may later turn out to be wrong.”
The Daily Beast article, written by a self-described “fiction writer,” begins, “A Columbus police officer shot and killed a Black teenage girl on Tuesday afternoon just as a guilty verdict was being handed down in the Derek Chauvin murder case.” How are the two incidents related? Well, the Beast asked “local Columbus activist K.C. Taynor of Exodus Nation,” who told the outlet “the latest police killing made it impossible to celebrate the Chauvin verdict.”
“It’s another murder,” he’s quoted as saying. “They’re animals. They treat us like animals.”
The Times’ writeup also appeared to intentionally distort a quote from prominent defense attorney Ben Crump, who tweeted that “a community in Columbus felt the sting of another police shooting as @ColumbusPolice killed an unarmed 15yo Black girl named Makiyah Bryant.”
As we breathed a collective sigh of relief today, a community in Columbus felt the sting of another police shooting as @ColumbusPolice killed an unarmed 15yo Black girl named Makiyah Bryant. Another child lost! Another hashtag. ✊🏾🙏🏾#JusticeForMakiyahBryant https://t.co/9ssR5gfqm5
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) April 21, 2021
While the Times quoted Crump, it quietly removed his line about Bryant being “unarmed.”
“As we breathed a collective sigh of relief today, a community in Columbus felt the sting of another police shooting” Mr. Crump said, according to the Times. “Another child lost! Another hashtag.”
A spokesperson for the paper did not return a request for comment on why Crump’s “unarmed” claim was deleted.
The reaction to the story on Twitter from activists and prominent liberals also elided key facts. Some claimed, without evidence, that it was Bryant herself who had placed the 911 call, while others belittled the fact that she was attempting to attack a fellow girl with a knife.
And now reports tonight that a Black child who called the police was shot and killed by police.
— Maya Harris (@mayaharris_) April 21, 2021
#MakiyahBryant – a 15 year old black girl in Columbus Ohio was shot after calling the police for help. Just minutes after the #DerekChauvinTrial – Tell me again how this can be “reformed”? https://t.co/tCq5JmqPwg
— Dr. Jason Johnson (@DrJasonJohnson) April 21, 2021
WARNING. How in the hell does this police officer think it’s a good idea to fire shots blindly into a group of teenagers having a fight. Yes one of them has a knife. Oh, that never happened in your school or neighborhood? She didn’t deserve to die. 16 years old. #makhiabryant https://t.co/hnimSwnG7s
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) April 21, 2021
She’s not a “young woman.” She’s a child. And she didn’t “lose her life.” The police killed her. The police killed a 15 year old child. Say it. Own it. https://t.co/u001ueLQTs
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) April 21, 2021
Police killed at least 5 people today. This morning they killed someone in Lakewood, CO. Police killed two people in San Antonio this afternoon. Then they killed someone in Detroit and killed #makhiabryant in Columbus. https://t.co/GfRHZzTZvP
— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) April 21, 2021
Teenagers have been having fights including fights involving knives for eons. We do not need police to address these situations by showing up to the scene & using a weapon against one of the teenagers. Y’all need help. I mean that sincerely.
— DEFUND & ABOLISH POLICE, REFUND OUR COMMUNITIES (@BreeNewsome) April 21, 2021
Prominent Democrat politicians, including Senator Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), also waded into the fray by trying to tie the shooting to George Floyd’s death.
Hours after the Derek Chauvin verdict, a 15-year-old Black girl named Makiyah Bryant was killed by police in Columbus, Ohio.
It’s another tragic reminder that justice won’t be fully realized until we act to reimagine public safety. https://t.co/GiKb162xid
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) April 21, 2021
While the verdict was being read in the Derek Chauvin trial, Columbus police shot and killed a sixteen-year-old girl.
Her name was Ma’Khia Bryant. She should be alive right now. #MaKhiaBryanthttps://t.co/8SBdK4mxlE
— Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) April 21, 2021
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