Following the death of Ma'Khia Bryant, protestors took to the streets in Columbus, Ohio, expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. (Becker 1999/Flickr)
On April 20, 2021, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts involving the murder of George Floyd. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, drew national attention and kickstarted the Black Lives Matter movement. In response to the death of George Floyd, voices from across the United States spoke up to protest corruption within the nation’s police system as well as address racial injustice.
Upon hearing the judge’s verdict, Philonise Floyd — the brother of the late George Floyd — hugged prosecutor Jerry Blackwell and expressed disbelief that justice had been served. Moreover, much of the American public, having anxiously awaited the verdict, emitted a sigh of relief. For supporters of the Black Lives Movement, the George Floyd trial was supposed to be the turning point that signalled a departure from police brutality in favor of a nonviolent future centered on reform.
But on the same day, April 20, 2021, Ma’Khia Bryant, a black woman, died at the hands of the police. Across the nation, citizens took to social media to protest the officer’s actions. To many who heard of the event, the shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant only affirmed the existence of police brutality within America.
However, the nature of Ma’Khia’s death remains different from Floyd’s, who endured almost 10 minutes of suppression by a police officer. In body cam footage from the altercation, Bryant is shown holding a knife as she pushes two girls. The officer, identified as Nicholas Reardon, shouted, “Get down!” multiple times before firing his weapon several times at Ma’Khia, who was at that moment brandishing a knife at another girl. In the United States, the use of deadly force by sworn law enforcement officers is lawful when the officer reasonably believes the subject poses a significant threat of bodily harm or death to others. Despite her young age (which the officer was not aware of), Ma’Khia was indeed posing a threat to another individual.
Another factor to consider is the officer’s limited time to assess the situation. Seconds after Reardon exited his car, Ma’Khia pushed one of the two girls involved in the fight against a parked car while holding a knife in a threatening position, giving Reardon very little time to diffuse the situation, which quickly escalated upon his arrival. “We have to ask ourselves: What information did the officer have? What did he see? How much time did he have to assess the situation?” Director of Public Safety Ned Pettus Jr. explained. “And what would have happened if he had taken no action at all?”
Although Reardon loudly ordered Ma’Khia to “get down” several times before shooting her, many have asked why he didn’t use a stun gun or shoot Ma’Khia in the leg. But according to Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida, police chief who now testifies as an expert witness in use-of-force cases, “officers are trained not to use ‘less deadly force’ on individuals using deadly force themselves.” He also commented that officers are trained to “neutralize the threat,” which is why Reardon aimed for Ma’Khia’s center mass rather than a less fatal position. If Reardon had known Ma’Khia was a minor, he might have viewed her as a child rather than an active threat and taken a different approach to neutralizing her. However, it appears he had no choice but to apply his training to a fast moving situation. After the shots had been fired, officers attempted lifesaving measures almost immediately, with one saying, “Stay with us, Ma’Khia,” after asking for her name.
According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, black children were six times more likely to be shot to death by the police than their white peers over a 16 year period. This points to the claim that racial biases still maintain a strong hold over our nation. But considering the information available in the case of the shooting of Ma’Khia, some may assert that Reardon’s actions were in line with police training and influenced by external factors rather than racism. It is more than unfortunate that Ma’Khia Bryant was killed on the day of George Floyd’s monumental trial. However, closer inspection reveals that the narrative is more complicated than it may appear.
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