On the Police Shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant

On the Police Shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant April 21, 2021


I watched the video of the police shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant.

I didn’t really mean to, I’m not saying you should, it just came across my news feed and I pressed “play.”

And now I feel like I have to talk about it briefly, because so many people say this officer was justified because Ma’Khia was fighting with a knife.

The video footage began about ten seconds before the shooting. You can see that the officer already has his gun drawn: two white hands clutching a pistol, ready to fire at any moment. There is a group of mostly Black teenagers fighting in a driveway in front of him, and all their faces are blurred on the video. One of them, presumably Ma’Khia, a girl in torn jeans and a dark top, is flailing around in an erratic, violent way. It’s being said that she’s the one who called the police in the first place because the other teens were attacking her, and I can’t say for sure if that was true, but if it is, it matches what I see in the video. She doesn’t look like somebody who set out to be violent, she looks like somebody extremely frustrated or scared, insofar as we can tell from the body language. She’s definitely armed with a knife. I had to look at stills from the video to see the knife she’s holding because the video is very confused and you could almost think she was punching people. The knife reminds me of a cake knife or something you’d get out of a kitchen drawer, not a hunting knife, something a panicked teen would grab to defend herself when she wasn’t thinking straight. But I could be wrong because the video is a little blurry.

Ma’Khia grabs another girl and swings her around violently. The girl goes rolling to the ground. She lands on the sidewalk at the officer’s feet with her skirt flying up, and this is the first part that horrified me: the officer takes a good solid second to aim the pistol at the girl who was thrown to the ground. Then he points it back at the whole group of fighting teens. My knowledge of gun safety says you never, ever point a gun at someone unless you’re fully prepared to blow them away. To me, that means the officer was considering who, in a group of mostly unarmed brawling teens, to shoot first, and that’s shocking.

Then the officer points the gun at Ma’Khia who is running after a girl about her size who is wearing a bright pink jumpsuit. We’ve been told that she was defending herself with her knife and I don’t disbelieve that that’s how the fight got started, but she’s not acting in self-defense when she chases the girl. Ma’Khia runs down in front of a gray car, still flailing and looking panicked and out of control, grabs the girl in pink, and tries to stab her in the arm or shoulder.

At this point the officer is about ten feet away. If he’d been running toward the only armed person I could see in this brawl instead of selecting a target to shoot from the beginning, he could easily have tackled her and grabbed the knife. He could probably still have done so. If he’d had a taser he could have disabled her right there and I would’ve said he was right. But he’s just walking fast aiming the gun.

Someone, maybe the officer, shouts “DROP IT DROP IT DROP IT” and then he shoots her directly in the side, she starts to fall, and he pulls the trigger four more times, shooting her in the back and chest. You can very clearly hear POW POW POW POW POW.  Five shots. He executed her, when it was clear that she wouldn’t be dangerous anymore.

The teenagers start screaming in fear at the officer’s actions.

Ma’Khia falls to the ground, twitching. She is obviously completely helpless.

Two uniformed people I thought were other police but were apparently medics step up. For quite some time they just look in shock at the officer, who is still aiming the gun at the twitching body of the teenage girl he’s just shot, even though she can’t possibly be a threat. One of the medics looks as if he’s afraid he’ll be shot if he helps her.

And that’s all the footage that I saw.

If the officer had not had a pistol in hand and had thrown himself at Ma’Khia, every child in that fight would be alive today. If he had gone after her with some non-lethal means like a taser, every child in the fight would be alive today. The fact that he showed up gun-first, aiming it like an eye at everyone he looked at, shows that he wasn’t thinking of how to break up the fight nonviolently. When you aim your gun at a human being, you’ve already made the choice that you’re perfectly okay with destroying that person. He was okay with destroying that girl on the ground and the group of teens in the driveway. He was obviously shooting to destroy Ma’Khia instead of to disable her somehow, or he would never have shot her in the chest, let alone shooting five times in a row.

The girl in pink is lucky to be alive, because from the way they were positioned, the officer could easily have accidentally shot her. A bullet could have gone through Ma’Khia and killed the girl in pink. The officer could have shot the girl on the ground or the children in the driveway. He could have shot the medics. Bullets could have bounced off the car and killed someone. He came to the situation clutching a gun, ready to kill.

You can accuse me of being an armchair quarterback. True, I don’t know what I would have done in that situation. I might well have panicked and shot someone. But a police officer is supposed to be trained in breaking up a fight. He’s supposed to keep cool under pressure and know exactly what to do in a fight. That’s what they’re paid to do. He doesn’t have any excuse.

I am certain that, if Ma’Khia and the children she was fighting had all been white teenage boys in polo shirts and khakis brawling equally violently in the parking lot of a private school, they would still be alive.

I don’t know what started the fight that Ma’Khia was in. By the time the police got there, she wasn’t just defending herself, she was lashing out. She wasn’t being good. She was behaving violently and could have badly hurt or killed someone. But she still deserves to live, because children deserve to live, even when they’re violent and going to hurt someone. And Ma’Khia was a child.

The officer disregarded the lives of every child in that situation. He showed up ready to kill someone, didn’t care about the safety of any bystanders, made his selection and killed Ma’Khia. If she were white, I firmly believe she’d be in a jail cell with a bad bruise from being tackled by the officer right now– embarrassed, hurt, and alive.

If Black Lives Matter, and they do, they should be treated with equal consideration to white lives. Not just when they have their hands up. Not just when they’re obeying the rules. But also when they’re being bad. A Black teen with a knife should not be treated differently than a white teen with a knife. The situation needed to be stopped. A certain amount of proportionate violence was justified. Executing a teenage girl with five shots to the chest was not. There’s a hackneyed adage about bringing a gun to a knife fight, and a police officer is the first one who should know that.

This shooting should never have happened, even though the victim had a knife. The officer should have known better and we should all be ashamed.




Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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