- Ma’khia Bryant was killed by Columbus, Ohio police seconds after they responded to her call for help.
- The encounter is part of a pattern of killings that ranks Columbus among the worst cities for police violence in the country.
- CPD serves as a national reminder: police aren’t making mistakes when they kill – it’s what they’re trained to do.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Students at The Ohio State University have a reputation for flipping cars over.
When the football team loses against top-ranked opponents, cars will be flipped over on campus. Even when the football team wins against top-ranked opponents, cars are liable to be flipped over. Block parties like “Chitt Fest” are attended by thousands of wasted students and can lead to, you guessed it, cars being flipped over.
Chitt Fests – named after Chittenden Avenue, where I lived in 2013 – are usually rowdy, but not extensive-property-damage rowdy. This year’s rager, though, was less of a party and more of a riot.
One student found her 2016 Chevy Cruz being flipped over in real time. Others reported beer bottles being thrown through the windows of houses and apartments, as well as electric scooters being thrown into trees. In total, seven cars were flipped over, leading some to ask: where the hell were the police?
Columbus, Ohio, where The Ohio State University is located, is a great city. It’s ranked fifth in the world when it comes to quality of life, and its broad acceptance of immigrants brought my parents there in the early 1990s. Although I’ve been living in New York City for six years, Columbus still feels like my home.
But operating menacingly beneath these accolades is the city’s haunting law enforcement, which will remain a stain on Columbus’ image for the foreseeable future. The police in Columbus, Ohio are a great example of the worst kind of policing, and its behavior towards those it’s meant to protect should serve as a national reminder: the police have the power, and they’re not afraid to abuse it.
An OSU student told the Columbus Dispatch that when she called 9-1-1 on the night of this year’s Chitt Fest, the operator told her that police “have other things to worry about.” Those “other things” contribute to the Columbus Police Department’s absolutely abysmal reputation with its community and a record of violence against citizens that is one of the worst in the country.
The latest and most notorious example of this rot came on Tuesday, when 16-year-old Ma’khia Bryant called Columbus police because she was worried about her safety. When police arrived, they witnessed a fight between Ma’khia and two other girls. Ma’khia had a knife in her hand.
It’s at this point in the timeline of the altercation that we have to understand the way police are trained. Considering her age, police could have physically restrained Ma’khia, who was, based on the fact that her family says she was the one who called 9-1-1, presumably defending herself. By my own review of the body cam footage, police outnumbered Ma’khia four to one, and it isn’t unreasonable to think that they could have simply overpowered her.
But let’s say physical restraint is out of the question. Another option would be to use a taser, as former Brooklyn Center cop Kim Potter is alleged to have intended before she shot and killed Daunte Wright just last week.
Instead, an officer responded to what he saw by immediately shooting and killing Ma’khia within seconds of his arrival. Reasonable people may think this was a mistake, but actually, it’s exactly how he was trained to respond.
A former police officer wrote in the Atlantic that officer training emphasizes the severity of the risks to their lives. Cadets are shown horrifying videos of police officers being beaten or killed, and are taught that the risk of making a “mistake” – like killing Ma’khia instead of subduing her – is far less than the risk of neutralizing a threat, no matter how much of a threat there actually is.
This type of training is why, on December 4, 2020, Franklin County sheriff’s deputy Jason Meade shot and killed 23-year-old Casey Goodson, who, according to his family, was holding a sandwich in one hand and a face mask in the other.
It’s also why, a couple of weeks later, Columbus police officer Adam Coy shot and killed Andre Hill, a 47-year-old Black man, within seconds of their encounter. On December 22, 2020, Officer Coy responded to a call about a man who committed the unconscionable crime of sitting in his car for a while. Coy approached Hill, who had a phone in his hand, and killed him on sight.
Desperate for change
Police in Columbus and the surrounding Franklin County are ranked 18th out of the 100 most populous counties in the nation based on the rate of fatal law enforcement encounters. Since 2015, there have been at least 39 police killings in Franklin County. Compared to other police departments, Columbus police have killed the third-highest amount of children since 2013, behind only Chicago and Houston.
And of course, Black people in Columbus are particularly affected. A 2019 study commissioned by the city showed “significant disparity of use of force against minority residents,” citing that Black people were half of the cases of “use of force” incidents despite only making up 28% of the city’s population.
After Ma’khia Bryant was gunned down, a bystander in the body cam video can be heard rightfully saying “Are you serious? She’s a f—— kid, man!” Her entire life up to that point, and everything that would have followed, was reduced to an encounter that lasted just seconds, thanks to a system that values its officers’ lives more than those they’re supposed to protect and serve. This system doesn’t just teach officers that everyone is a threat, it also perpetuates a culture where this behavior is glorified.
This is made clear by the Columbus Police Department’s callous behavior in the last few weeks. Officers who responded to the Ma’khia Bryant scene were heard chanting “Blue Lives Matter” to bystanders. And on the heels of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests throughout Columbus, a CPD helicopter was caught on radar spelling out “CPD” – for Columbus Police Department – in the skies above Columbus.
Few lives are made better by this brand of policing. Few lives are made safer. Otherwise burgeoning cities are weighed down by bad-faith policing tactics, drastically slowing a town’s march towards progress.
The police are on top, and they aren’t afraid to showcase it. Until some form of reckoning shows up on the doorsteps of my treasured hometown, its residents have to live in fear.