Columbus: No easy answers on police actions

Anxious anticipation gave way to waves of relief across the country as a jury in Minneapolis convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin on murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd. The move was hailed as a step forward in the journey toward social justice.

President Joe Biden said “It’s not enough. We can’t stop here. We’re going to deliver real change and reform.

“We can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Columbus, the Division of Police was releasing footage of an officer shooting and killing a 16-year-old Black girl who was wielding a knife.

To make one thing clear, the footage does, indeed, show Ma’Khia Bryant swinging a knife at another girl, charging at someone and leaving officers no choice but to act. State law allows officers to protect themselves or others. There is no simple conclusion to draw about whether the officer could have or should have done something differently, though a knee-jerk reaction is that shooting the teenager four times might have been excessive.

In the released video, a man immediately yells at the officer, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”

To which the officer responds, “She had a knife. She just went at her.”

None of us can say how we would have reacted in the same situation. Then again, most of us have not been through the kind of training that officer received. It will be up to investigators to make solid conclusions on that front.

Meanwhile, doing more to reduce the likelihood of a tragedy like Bryant’s death might, for example, mean examining the resources available to Franklin County Children’s Services, and the circumstances that led to her being in a driveway swinging a knife to begin with. It can’t begin and end with the police department. Bryant, it seems, was failed by more than one system.

Her death, so closely preceding the news of Chauvin’s conviction, must inspire us to work toward making progress on a multi-layered and incredibly complex issue without being so naive as to think there are simple answers for any of it.


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