Editorial: Tragedy in Columbus

The fatal shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant could have only been prevented by one person, the deceased.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Two numbers need to be part of the current discussion on police use of force—569 and 11. That first number is the total of seconds that Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd. The second is my estimate of the amount of time that passed between Columbus, OH, police officer Nicholas Reardon getting out of his patrol vehicle to the moment he was forced to kill 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant.

Anyone who has watched the video of George Floyd being pinned to the ground by Chauvin can tell you that 569 seconds (nine minutes and 29 seconds) is an eternity. The 11 seconds of the Bryant incident are a blink in comparison. It takes me four seconds to get out of my desk chair and walk the nine feet to the entrance of my office. That’s how little time Reardon had to react to a knife attack in progress.

Yet the press and the activists and the politicians and the Monday morning quarterbacks are doing their best to merge the two incidents. Every story I’ve read in the mainstream press about the Bryant shooting has without fail mentioned that it happened at about the same time that the Chauvin guilty verdicts were being handed down. The implication is clear:  “Reardon and Chauvin are part of the same systemically racist police culture in America that exists to oppress and murder black people.” Very few stories mention prominently that Reardon shot Bryant because at that moment she presented a deadly threat to another young black woman.

A still frame from Reardon’s body camera footage shows Bryant lunging at a young woman in pink who is trapped against the passenger side panel of a car. Bryant is holding what appears to be a kitchen knife in her right hand. The muscles in her arm are tensed as it appears she is about to plunge it in the other female’s body. And that’s when Reardon opened fire, mortally wounding Bryant. Officer Reardon faced a terrible situation that led to tragedy for the Bryant family.


Some of the first media accounts conveniently omitted the fact that Bryant had a knife and was attacking a woman when the officer shot her. That led to protests in Columbus and a bunch of useless idiots—like LeBron James—on social media comparing Reardon to Chauvin.

Even after the Columbus Division of Police released the body camera video, useless idiots on social media were spouting their useless idiocy.

The most idiotic commentators said Officer Reardon should have thrown something at Bryant. One even suggested a Nerf football.

The second most idiotic commentators said Officer Reardon should have just let the woman be stabbed. This is the variation of the “it was only a knife argument” that’s trotted out when officers shoot someone attacking them with a blade. Any officer who would just let a young woman be stabbed in front of him is derelict in his duty.

There were also recommendations of warning shots. The legal, tactical, and public safety ramifications of warning shots aside, I’m not sure what the effect would have been. Bryant was close enough to her intended target that she probably would have stabbed her at least once. At best a warning shot would have prevented a second stab wound.

And of course they asked why the officer didn’t TASER Bryant. Someone needs to tell them TASERs are not intended to stop a knife attack in progress. They have very limited range and are not very good against people moving quickly, which Bryant was doing. 

Finally, the usual police critics said Officer Reardon should have de-escalated the situation. The only known way to de-escalate is to buy time to get the person to stop their illegal behavior and comply with the lawful orders of the officer.

There was no time to buy in this incident. Here’s the entire transcript of everything Officer Reardon had a chance to say after arriving on the scene to the point he had to open fire: “Hey, what’s going on? Hey, what’s going on?! Hey! Hey! Hey! Get Down! Get Down! Get Down!” There was no time to de-escalate. The only way he could have bought time to do so would have been with the blood of the woman Bryant was trying to stab. His duty was to protect her. It would have been wonderful if he could have protected Bryant, too. But Bryant did not give him that option.

And that is a terrible tragedy. But it is not evidence of systemic racism in American law enforcement. It does not mean that officers need more training in how to handle such situations because, until they have the next-generation of less-lethal tools, there is no other way to handle such situations than eliminate the threat and save the intended victim. It does not make Ma’Khia Bryant the next George Floyd. And it absolutely does not make Officer Nicholas Reardon the next Derek Chauvin. He was forced to kill to save a life. Which is a hell of a thing for everybody involved.

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