A Columbus, Ohio police officer shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant Tuesday, April 20 – just as Derek Chauvin was being declared guilty of murdering George Floyd – and once again, the left cries out against police brutality. Sometimes, they have it right. Sometimes, the officer is clearly in the wrong – but there’s a key element to this story that those crying foul either miss, ignore, or downplay: Bryant had a knife and appeared to be attacking two other civilians.
Should the officer – who had no idea what he was walking into aside from the fact that some unidentified person called 911 and reported a knife attack in progress – have allowed a potential murder to occur in front of him, or was he right to act as he did? It may be too soon to make a judgment in this case – we almost certainly don’t have all the facts yet – but, in general, there is great wisdom in bringing a gun to a knife fight.
There is a single clip of bodycam footage available to the public from the POV of the shooting officer. After watching the video – from his perspective – it seems he pulled up to a knife attack in progress. He got out of the car and asked what was going on. When Bryant knocked over another thus far unidentified female, the officer yelled for her to get down. She ignored him, pursuing the second apparent victim, pinning the girl against a car, and raising a knife as if to plunge it down and kill her.
The officer, yelling the whole time for her to stop, drew his weapon and fired four shots. Immediately, people begin running away and a man – who had just kicked the first apparent victim in the back of the head – began yelling that she was just a kid and that the officer didn’t have to shoot. The officer, gun still drawn, responded that she had a knife.
Is it possible that there’s more to this story than meets the eye – even after watching the video? Of course. However, given that the footage is taken from the officer’s perspective, he likely didn’t see anything the viewer can’t.
Bringing a Gun to a Knife Fight
It has oft been said that you should never bring a knife to a gun fight. That’s great advice. As well, there’s wisdom in always bringing a gun to a knife fight – or any other altercation involving deadly weapons. The officer reacted in the same way many officers – or many armed citizens, for that matter – would. He perceived at least one unarmed person’s life was being threatened by an assailant with a deadly weapon, and he acted to defend the defenseless. As anyone familiar with the use of weapons can explain, whether in defense of self or another, when deadly weapons are brought into play, the mission of the defender becomes immediately clear: Stop the threat as soon as possible and minimize the risk to self and others.
If a firearm is available, that’s the tool to use; it is the attacker who has escalated the situation to deadly force, not the defender. Should the officer instead have attempted to wrestle the knife from her hands, potentially giving her time to kill the girl she certainly seemed to be about to stab – never mind the risk to himself? Perhaps he should have sprayed her – and everyone else within range downstream or downwind of the mace … and still quite likely not have stopped her in time to prevent the stabbing.
The simple but sad fact is this: The moment that girl attacked someone with a knife, she instigated the situation that ultimately cost her life. She was just a kid, sure. But her age was neither known to the officer nor even relevant to the story. She was the aggressor at that point in what certainly appeared to be an attempted murder by stabbing and had thus boxed herself into an extremely limited number of outcomes.
The Tragedies – Both of Them
It isn’t clear what was going on when officers arrived on the scene. Some witnesses claimed it was Bryant who had called 911, reporting that two grown women were there to hurt her grandmother. Whether that is true or not is still under investigation.
It’s easy to judge, after the fact and outside the situation, what each party should have done. Much harder to make that decision in the heat of the moment, with limited background information and the rush of adrenaline narrowing your focus. However, two facts must be kept in mind while examining the situation. First, the officer had nothing to work with but a report of a knife attack and the visual confirmation that, indeed, someone was attacking someone else with a knife. Second, even if Bryant were acting in self-defense initially, that self-defense ended the moment her assailants attempted to flee and she pursued them, knocking one to the ground and pinning the other to a car and attempting to stab her, all the while multiple armed police officers were on the scene with one yelling at her to stop.
Had the officer not shot her and she had managed to stab the woman, she would have almost certainly faced murder charges if the victim died, whether she started the fight or not – and another black female would lie dead in her place. Then the outcry would be about how the officers simply stood aside and watched a murder.
It truly is a tragedy that Ma’khia Bryant died at so young an age and in such a violent way. Many have said that she should still be alive. Indeed, she should. Whatever found the teen holding that knife and going after those other two should never have happened. At the very least, she should have dropped the weapon and allowed the police to take over.
The other tragedy is that this officer must live the rest of his life knowing he shot and killed a 16-year-old girl who may or may not have even been the initial aggressor. That will likely haunt him for the rest of his days as he second-guesses himself – and the public outcry against him certainly won’t help.
Read more from James Fite.