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Bodycam Video Released After Columbus Police Fatally Shot 16-Year-Old Ma'Khia Bryant


Minutes before a Minneapolis judge announced that Derek Chauvin was guilty of the murder of George Floyd, a white police officer in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed a Black teenage girl. Ma’Khia Bryant was 16 years old. She was involved in a fight when the Columbus police officer arrived. The killing has sparked protests in Columbus and renewed calls for police reform. NPR's Frank Morris joins us from Columbus.

Hi, Frank.


SHAPIRO: Tell us what led up to this shooting.

MORRIS: So Columbus police released a body cam video of the killing less than six hours after it happened, which is highly unusual. A police officer pulls up to a disturbance, a fight involving several people on a residential street and asks what's going on. Ma’Khia Bryant appears to lunge at one woman, who falls to the sidewalk. The officer pulls his gun and shouts, get down. Ma’Khia rears back, and police say she appears to be holding a knife, as another woman cowers against a car. Then the officer fires. Now the family and the community are grieving the death of a 16-year-old and asking questions. Hazel Bryant is Ma’Khia's aunt.


HAZEL BRYANT: I mean, I'm just shocked. I mean, I just don't even know what to say. It's just, like, an out-of-body experience. She was a loving, sweet girl. She was a loving child, and she was trying to do her best at this particular time. And she didn't get the chance to even grow up because the police took that away from her. You know, they just shot her like a dog in the street.

SHAPIRO: And, Frank, what are police and city officials saying in response to this video?

MORRIS: Part of the official narrative was that the officer was trying to protect others in the fight, though that may be disputed by some. Ned Pettus, Jr., director of public safety for the city of Columbus, says it's a tragic and complicated situation.


NED PETTUS JR: A teenage girl is dead, and she's dead at the hands of a police officer. Under any circumstances, that is a horrendous tragedy. But the video shows that there is more to this. It requires us to pause, take a close look at the sequence of events, and, though it's not easy, wait for the facts.

MORRIS: The Columbus Police Department isn't saying that much, other than confirming basic details. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is taking over the case.

SHAPIRO: And, Frank, as you've reported, Columbus has a history of these kinds of incidents, white officers killing Black citizens under questionable circumstances. What's the city doing to prevent this from happening?

MORRIS: You know, the city passed a ballot amendment last November setting up a civilian review board, and that passed overwhelmingly. And the board would oversee the police. Members of that board have been chosen, but the board's powers aren't clear. A lot will depend on the outcome of contentious negotiations between the city and the police union. And Columbus mayor, Andrew Ginther, has been pushing for police reforms, but he says they won't be enough to stop violence against young people.


ANDREW GINTHER: This is a failure on part of our community. Some are guilty, but all of us are responsible.

MORRIS: Tonight, police are anticipating more protesters to gather, perhaps at the state house in downtown Columbus and in the neighborhood where Ma'Khia Bryant lived.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Frank Morris in Columbus, Ohio.

Thank you very much.

MORRIS: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.