COLUMBUS, Ohio – Body camera footage from a Columbus police officer’s fatal shooting of a Black teenager sparked outcry and protests from local activists, national leaders and even the White House on Wednesday, as it became the latest in a string of deadly videos documenting the final moments of a person of color killed by law enforcement.
The death of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, who was shot by Officer Nicholas Reardon on Tuesday during an altercation, comes as the nation is undergoing a broad reckoning over police brutality and racism. Her name joins a long and growing list of Black people slain by police officers in deadly interactions that have sparked protests and broad calls for justice.
In a sign of how effective those protests have been in drawing public attention to the issue of police violence, the details of the shooting were swiftly briefed to President Joe Biden, whose administration has pledged to address systemic racism and overhaul policing.
“The killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by the Columbus police is tragic,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday. “She was a child. We’re thinking of her friends and family in the communities that are hurting and grieving her loss.”
As Psaki was drawing a connection between Bryant’s killing and the broader trend of disproportionate use of force against minorities by police, officials in Columbus sought to calm tensions by quickly releasing information about the incident.
“I wish to hell it hadn’t happened,” interim police chief Michael Woods told reporters after releasing the footage and the 911 calls that led officers to respond. Woods said the officer has been with the department since December 2019 and has been placed on administrative leave.
The shooting, which took place in a residential neighborhood in the city’s southeast, occurred just minutes before a Minneapolis jury announced it had found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd last year. Even as activists celebrated the verdict as a rare instance of police accountability, some pointed to Bryant’s killing as an example of the kind of systemic racism that persists in the country’s policing practices.
The footage released Wednesday shows a chaotic scene. The officer identified as Reardon arrives during a physical altercation involving several people. Reardon, who is White, can be seen emerging from his vehicle as Bryant appears to chase someone, who falls onto the sidewalk. The teen then turns toward someone else wearing a pink sweatsuit and takes a swing at her head, with what appears to be a blade briefly visible in her hand. The officer yells, “Get down!” multiple times before firing four shots at the girl, leaving her sprawled next to a car in the driveway.
“She had a knife. She just ran at her,” one officer says on the footage.
Another clip showed officers performing CPR on Bryant.
“Come on Ma’Khia, stay with us,” one of them can be heard saying.
Footage taken at the scene by a neighbor shortly after the shooting shows two police officers kneeling over Bryant. One is performing chest compressions. She appears unresponsive and blood is pooled on the ground beneath her. Around them, several more officers tape off the area as family and neighbors cry.
Hazel Bryant, who said she is Bryant’s aunt, told The Washington Post in a brief interview Wednesday that “the body cam doesn’t show the truth of what occurred.” She said she didn’t personally witness the incident but arrived at the scene soon after. She described her niece as “so loving and kind.”
Others asked why police didn’t do more to try to de-escalate the situation before the officer opened fire.
“As soon as he got out of the car, he had the gun ready to shoot somebody,” Kiara Yakita, founder and president of the grass-roots group Black Liberation Movement Central Ohio, told The Post. “Law enforcement and city officials are rushing to make excuses because she had a knife. Those excuses are not valid to me.”
In the 911 audio released Wednesday, a woman’s voice can be heard telling the dispatcher that someone is “trying to stab us” as people scream in the background. A second caller asks for police to come to the neighborhood and then hangs up when she sees officers outside. Police said they haven’t determined who the callers were.
The shooting has inflamed tensions between police and residents in the city of about 900,000, which was already grappling with the fallout from the fatal police shootings of Casey Goodson Jr., 23, and Andre Hill, 47, both Black men who were killed in December.
Another teenager, 13-year-old Adam Toledo, was shot and killed by police in Chicago last month, sparking protests and calls for an overhaul of policing. Authorities say Toledo had a firearm, and body camera footage released last week shows him tossing an object over a fence and raising his hands in the split-second before he was fatally wounded.
Just a few miles outside Minneapolis, activists have also been protesting the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was shot by police after a traffic stop in the city of Brooklyn Center earlier this month. Wright will be laid to rest on Thursday, with a eulogy from civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Floyd’s relatives have pledged to fight for justice for Wright and other minorities killed by law enforcement.
Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, wrote in an op-ed for The Post on Wednesday that his family “has forged relationships with the families of so many other victims of brutality and over-policing” and would aim to turn the outcome of Chauvin’s trial into a more lasting progress in the fight against racism.
“But only with the passage of time will we know if the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin is the start of something that will truly change America and the experience of Black Americans,” he wrote.
Biden, who has called Chauvin’s conviction the first step in a broader fight for racial justice, told members of Floyd’s family that he would push for new laws aimed at increasing police accountability. Psaki reiterated those sentiments while speaking to reporters Wednesday.
“Our focus is on working to address systemic racism and implicit bias head on and, of course, to passing laws and legislation that will put much-needed reforms into place at police departments around the country,” she said.
Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., the only two Black Democrats in the Senate, were among several high-ranking officials pointing to Bryant’s death as an example of the need to overhaul policing.
“Ma’Khia Bryant was only 16 years old – killed by police yesterday,” Booker wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “She deserves justice and accountability. We must reform this deeply broken system. My heart is with Ma’Khia’s loved ones.”
In Ohio, Bryant’s death sparked calls for change from local activists and elected leaders alike. Hundreds of demonstrators staged a sit-in at Ohio State University’s student union Wednesday and then marched through town in protest. The previous night, about 100 protesters circled the streets of downtown Columbus. They were followed by vehicles honking horns, waving Black Lives Matter flags and chanting, “No justice, no peace,” as they passed the Statehouse, city hall and police headquarters.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, addressed Bryant’s death at a news conference, saying that he had watched video of the shooting and that the investigation must “play out.”
“Any time anyone is killed, it’s a tragedy. Any time a teenager, a child, is killed, it’s a horrible tragedy,” DeWine said.
In Wednesday tweets calling for statewide police changes, DeWine said the nation “must learn from the tragic death of George Floyd.” DeWine said his office has worked with state Rep. Phil Plummer, a Republican, – a former Montgomery County sheriff – on a legislative package to be introduced within the next few days.
The bill, aimed at “accountability and transparency,” would create a “peace officer oversight board” akin to professional boards with the power to suspend medical licenses; launch a central use-of-force database and officer discipline database; and mandate independent investigations of “critical incidents” that involve an officer, according to DeWine.
Columbus currently hands off its investigations of fatal shootings involving police to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, an arm of the office of Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican.
In a news conference Wednesday, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, a Democrat, called Bryant’s death “tragic” and said it was the result of a “failure on the part of the community.”
“Bottom line – did Ma’Khia Bryant need to die yesterday? How did we get here?” he said. “Some are guilty but all of us are responsible.”
Reardon will be taken off street duty while an independent stateinvestigation proceeds, according to the interim police chief. The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office will review the results and present them to a Franklin County grand jury. The police department will also review that incident for policy compliance or violations.
Leadership at the local police union, Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge #9, did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment. The Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio referred questions to the local lodge. The Post could not immediately reach Reardon.
The scene of the shooting was quiet Wednesday afternoon. The yellow police tape had been taken down, and several bouquets of flowers were laid on the lawn near where Bryant was shot.
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Hawkins, Firozi and Olorunnipa reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Adriana Usero, Hannah Knowles, Reis Thebault and Teo Armus contributed to this report.