The White House weighed in Wednesday on the police shooting of a knife-wielding teenage girl as she attacked another girl in Columbus, Ohio, by connecting the incident to “police violence” in minority communities and the death of George Floyd.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki offered sympathy to friends and family over the Tuesday death of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, calling it “tragic” and saying that “She was a child,” before tying the shooting to race.
“We know that police violence disproportionately impacts Black and Latino people in communities, and that Black women and girls, like Black men and boys, experience higher rates of police violence,” Ms. Psaki said.
She noted that the shooting occurred the same day that a Minneapolis jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin in the May 25 murder of George Floyd, who was Black.
“We also know that there are particular vulnerabilities that children in foster care like Ma’Khia face, and her death came, as you noted, just as America was hopeful of a step forward after the traumatic and exhausting trial of Derek Chauvin, and the verdict that was reached,” Ms. Psaki said.
“So our focus is on working to address systemic racism and implicit bias head-on, and of course to passing laws and legislation that will put much-needed reforms into place at police departments around the country,” she said.
The Columbus Division of Police released police body-cam footage hours after the shooting showing Ma’Khia brandishing a knife as she ran after a young woman, who fell to the ground, then turning on another girl before being shot and killed by an officer.
“We know based on this footage the officer took action to protect another young girl in our community,” Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said at the press conference.
Even so, about 100 protesters with Black Lives Matter signs and flags gathered later that night to decry the girl’s death, calling it “murder,” while the NAACP of Columbus issued a statement questioning the use of deadly force against Ma’Khia, who was Black.
“What threat did this 16-year-old pose to the police officer?” asked the NAACP after the footage was released. “What steps were taken to de-escalate the situation? Why wasn’t a Taser or pepper spray used? Finally, how does a call for help result in the death of a 16-year-old child?”
Franklin County Children Services said Ma’Khia was a foster child under the agency’s care when she was shot in a residential neighborhood in southeast Columbus.
Interim Columbus Police Chief Michael Woods said that the early release of body-cam footage was “unprecedented” and that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation would conduct an independent probe into the shooting.
He said police received a 911 call saying that “females were there trying to stab them and put their hands on them.” The officer who shot Ma’Khia was the first to arrive at the scene at 4:44 p.m., and he has been “taken off the street.”
“Deadly force can be used to protect yourself or the protection of a third person. So that is in the policy and that is in the law,” said Chief Woods, adding that “whether this complies with that will be part of that investigation.”
There were about a half-dozen people in front of the house when the shooting occurred. One man yelled at the officer, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”
The officer replied: “She had a knife. She just went at her.”
Ma’Khia Bryant’s name was trending Wednesday on social media as debate raged on the shooting.
“While the verdict was being read in the Derek Chauvin trial, Columbus police shot and killed a sixteen-year-old girl,” tweeted Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat. “Her name was Ma’Khia Bryant. She should be alive right now.”
Comedian Kathy Griffin blasted police, tweeting, “How in the hell does this police officer think it’s a good idea to fire shots blindly into a group of teenagers having a fight. Yes one of them has a knife. Oh, that never happened in your school or neighborhood? She didn’t deserve to die.”
Former Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett said the officer “decided to shoot her multiple times to break up a knife fight,” prompting conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza to ask, “Is it accurate to describe one person with a knife stabbing another unarmed person as a ‘knife fight’?”
Others countered that the other girl could have been injured or killed by Ma’Khia as she pinned her against a car while coming at her with a knife.
“Normal sixteen year olds do not attempt to butcher another human being to death with a knife. Neither her skin color or her age absolves her from any guilt. The responding officer is a hero,” tweeted conservative commentator Candace Owens.
• Dave Boyer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.