I don’t write about police-involved shootings and incidents often though I have on occasion. However, I’ve probably been more vocal on social media and have been critical of several of those incidents. I became more vocal about police shootings, the use of force, and police reform since George Floyd’s death last summer.
On the same day former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter; there was a police-involved shooting in Columbus, Ohio.
Officer Nicholas Reardon, 23, had only been with Columbus Police for one year just coming off his probationary period in December, shot 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant as she attacked another girl with a knife.
She later died at the hospital.
I worked with teenagers for twenty years, including foster care youth like Bryant was. It breaks my heart to see anyone at that age lose their life. It is horrible. It’s tragic. It makes me sick. I feel awful for her family.
Immediately, however, people rushed to judgment. Immediately, people had hot takes. People were spouting off about an unjust shooting before any facts were released.
According to the Columbus interim police chief, a “female caller” made a 911 call and said someone was trying “stab them” and “put their hands on them.”
Bryant’s foster mom, Angela Moore, told CNN that Bryant before the shooting got into an argument with two of Moore’s former foster care children over keeping the house clean. Sibling squabbles typically don’t involve knives.
Columbus Police made the unprecedented step of releasing bodycam footage late Tuesday evening. Bodycam footage never gets released that early in a police-involved shooting, not that I’ve seen anyway.
The bodycam footage, which you can watch here, showed Reardon get out of his car, and as he approached the scened, Bryant pushed one girl down. As he started to respond to that, Bryant rushed at the other girl with a knife. They replayed the video in slow motion, and it was evident she had a knife.
Reardon yells, “get down,” three or four times, and then fires four shots.
A home surveillance camera across the street shows a wider angle.
Reardon did not have his sidearm unholstered until she lunged at the other girl, and then he fired.
Critics of this shooting after this footage was released attempted to make this sound like it was ordinary. No, it wasn’t a fistfight or a typical scrap between kids. This incident involved a deadly weapon. In 2019, there were 1,476 people murdered with a knife or cutting instrument (compared to 364 with rifles, including AR-15s, but I digress).
Someone attacking another person with a knife is a lethal use of force, period.
Reardon’s awareness of what was going down and his accuracy speaks volumes about his professionalism. His actions saved at least one life, possibly two.
People have asked why he didn’t use non-lethal force.
He did not have time to reach Bryant, for starters, and even if he did, he might not have stopped her before she stabbed the other girl.
Tasers are not always effective, and he needed to stop the threat.
People ask why he didn’t shoot her arm or leg. Again, that may not have stopped her in time, and people who ask that question watch far too many movies. That isn’t real life. Reardon had to act quickly. Police officers, soldiers, and civilians who carry are trained and practice aiming center mass. Why? It’s the largest part of someone’s body, and shooting and hitting someone who is moving while you are under stress is incredibly hard. Aiming for anything other than center mass also increases the chance that he hits an innocent bystander (like the girl who was being attacked).
Some have asked why he shot four times, why not just once? Because he needs to stop the threat. He did not have time to wait and see if one round was going to be enough. His first-round could have missed, and if he waited, she might have reached the other girl. He fired until she was down and no longer a threat.
Its standard protocol in every police department and in state laws that use of force is allowed when you are under threat of lethal force, or someone else is under threat of lethal force.
He did not have time to deescalate the situation. He had to act. He could not let Bryant stab the other person with a knife.
While, yes, there are too many police shootings, and any loss of life is tragic. Unfortunately, not every police shooting can be avoided, and bad shootings are the exception, not the norm. Just because Bryant was black and Reardon was white does not mean the shooting was unjustified, and it doesn’t mean it was unavoidable. Attempting to force this shooting to fit a narrative does not help advance police reform, something I believe in; it does the opposite.
Reardon is not Chauvin. The preliminary evidence shows that he followed protocol. Chauvin did not. Reardon had seconds to act. Chauvin placed his weight on the neck of George Floyd and continued to do that for nine minutes. Reardon saved lives. Chauvin did not. Tying the two together is just dishonest.
They are not the same, and people need to stop treating them the same. It was an awful decision Reardon had to make, one that I’m sure he wished he didn’t have to make, but one, if facing the same circumstances, he would make again.