We previously discussed the shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, in Columbus, Ohio. I wrote earlier that I believed that the shooting was justified under departmental rules and legal precedent. Nevertheless, the shooting of the teenager was decried as murder in the media. “The View” co-host Joy Behar insisted that, when the officer saw Bryant moving to stab another girl, he should have shot in the air. The grand jury clearly disagreed and refused to indict Officer Nicholas Reardon.
At the time of the shooting, various media outlets like NPR posted misleading accounts of the shooting, which fueled anger in the city. (NPR later corrected its original account):
The Daily Beast also ran misleading coverage, including a quote from “local Columbus activist K.C. Taynor of Exodus Nation” that “the latest police killing made it impossible to celebrate the Chauvin verdict. It’s another murder. They’re animals. They treat us like animals.”
Such hair-triggered coverage has become the norm where public anger is fueled by false accounts or claims by media, including the Rittenhouse case and Sandmann controversy where the subjects later sued the media.
As we previously discussed, politicians and commentators often have a distorted view of the standard and realities in these cases. President Biden has long maintained that police officers should shoot armed suspects in the leg. However, there is a reason why police manuals do not say “aim for the leg” or “try to shoot the weapon out of the suspect’s hand.” It is called “imminent harm,” the standard governing all police shootings. The fact that many of us describe such shootings as “justified” is not to belittle these tragedies but to recognize the underlying exigencies that control the use of lethal force.
In the slow motion videos of shootings played on cable television, there often seems to be endless opportunities for de-escalation or alternatives to lethal force. None of us want to hear of the loss of another young life like Bryant’s. But Biden’s suggestion — that “instead of anybody coming at you and the first thing you do is shoot to kill, you shoot them in the leg” — is not exactly how it works, practically or legally.
It is clear from the videotape that Reardon had little choice but to use lethal force to protect the other teenager’s life.
Special Prosecutors H. Tim Merkle and Gary Shroyer presented the case to the grand jury and said that
“Under Ohio law the use of deadly force by a police officer is justified when there exists an immediate or imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another. The Franklin County Grand Jury has completed a full and comprehensive review of the incident and has returned no criminal charges.”