I'd have been shocked if the Minnesota jury didn't find Derek Chauvin guilty on all three counts, but as many prosecutors and defense attorneys have said, you never know what's going to happen in that jury room.
I don't know if Chauvin was the sort of cop who had a habit of taking things too far or if something in the dynamics of the moment took him to a place of madness, but on the face of it, he murdered George Floyd. It wasn't a close call.
Historically, police officers who murdered citizens while on the job weren't held to account. The simple fact is that without video, the police are going to be believed over citizens. The problem is that police lie and citizens lie. Cameras don't settle all disagreements regarding the use of force, but bodycam, security, and bystander videos give police, prosecutors, juries, and the public a lot more to work with.
Even with video, however, we can disagree over what constitutes "objective and reasonable" use of force, including deadly force. As I mentioned previously, and I will get to this in another post at some point, I'm afraid I have to disagree with many people who see a plainly unjustifiable shooting in the Adam Toledo case. On close inspection, the shooting looks justified to me, but I'm viewing the video with some knowledge of guns, shooting, and most importantly, a better acquaintance with the science of human perception than the typical person viewing the Adam Toledo video. But I'm not going to go further with that case now.
Then, yesterday, we had another public convulsion with news of the shooting of sixteen-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio. Many people assumed, upfront, that the shooting was unjustified. Some were raging at police to release the video, which they did within hours of the shooting. The video shows the view from the bodycam of the officer who shot Ms. Bryant. She is the girl seen in this screengrab with a knife in her hand.
But screengrabs can mislead us, as I believe a widely circulated screengrab of Adam Toledo with his empty hands raised is misleading. To evaluate these cases, we've got to see all of what the officer saw, in motion, as it occurred. In Ms. Bryant's case, that video is available here. I'd suggest watching the first 13 seconds several times, tracking the movements of everyone visible. I think the shooting was not only justified but necessary and just in the nick of time to save the life of the woman in pink.
In the first 6 seconds of the video, we see a woman in a pink tracksuit moving from center frame to left as the woman seems to walk diagonally toward the officer from the officer's perspective. The woman is in the parkway, close to where the driveway meets the street. Off to the right, maybe 10-15 feet away, a group of at least four more people is clustered in the driveway on the other side of the sidewalk.
Suddenly, this group scatters explosively with a woman in shorts backpedaling away from Ms. Bryant, who appears to have a knife raised to her. The woman moving backward falls to the ground in the parkway. Ms. Bryant circles around her, appearing to go at the woman on the ground before she breaks away and charges the woman in pink, knife pulled back to her side, then raised over the woman in pink who has fallen back on the hood of a car as she tries to escape being stabbed by Ms. Bryant. At that moment, the police officer shoots Ms. Bryant, who immediately falls to the ground.
Some people on social media said that police should have talked to Ms. Bryant, calmed her down, or intervened in some other way. None of that seems realistic given the scene that unfolded in that six seconds with several moving and shifting parts. You may have noticed, for example, that a man was also part of the attack on the woman who fell to the ground. He kicked her in the head just as Ms. Bryant shifted her attempted knifing from the woman on the ground to the woman in pink. And Ms. Bryant, who was several feet from the officer, did not appear to be listening to anyone. She was running and trying to stab people who were trying to escape being stabbed by her.
If I had to guess, I'd say Ms. Bryant was in a blind rage, and not responsive to words or commands. But we don't need to know that to see how the police officer saw it and to see why it was reasonable for him to believe that he had to shoot Ms. Bryant to save the life of the woman in the pink tracksuit. It was a split-second decision that looked like the right decision even in retrospect.
That's how I saw it after watching the video several times, stopping and restarting the video each time to isolate what happened in the first 13 seconds with particular attention to the 6 seconds leading up to the shooting. If you've got a different opinion about what occurred after carefully reviewing the video, I'd love to hear it.
By the way, we should avoid judgments of the officer's actions based upon the background of the individual who was shot. It doesn't matter if the person was a troubled teen, a gangbanger, or someone who had a hundred arrests under their belt, just as it doesn't matter if the individual was an honor student and a sweet kid. We should only judge a police officer's decision to use deadly force based upon the reasonableness of his actions in light of what the officer knew and saw, especially in the moments leading up to pulling the trigger. A debate over whether Ma'khia was a sweet kid, a holy terror, or something in between may be relevant to her loved ones, but it's irrelevant to the question of whether the shooting was justified.
Paula Bryant tells me her 16 year-old daughter Ma’Khia Bryant was an honor roll student and a sweet child. Ma’Khia was shot and killed by a @ColumbusPolice on Legion Lane at 4:30p today. pic.twitter.com/0FfbQVEgSD— Lacey Crisp (@LaceyCrisp) April 21, 2021