I have to clarify up front that this is part of Vox’s “First Person” series in which they publish hot takes from individuals who aren’t staff writers. In this case the piece is titled “I could have been Ma’Khia Bryant.” The author relates a personal story how, as a teen, she once wound up in a situation not so different from the one Bryant was in and how she therefore feels close to the situation.
It’s actually a great angle for this kind of piece but that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. In this case, the problems start in the second paragraph where the author is recounting the shooting. (hat tip to Jeryl Bier who noticed it first)
According to her mother, Ma’Khia had called the police herself for an attempted stabbing, but when the officers arrived on the scene, Ma’Khia was brandishing a knife and they opened fire, striking her four times. She died shortly after.
The word “brandishing” has a pretty clear and specific meaning. From Merriam Webster: “to shake or wave (something, such as a weapon) menacingly — brandished a knife at them.” If Bryant had been brandishing the knife, and only that, then I don’t think her shooting would have happened or that it would be justified.
The problem, obviously, is that’s not what happened. What actually happened is that Bryant threatened to “stab the f**k” out of one woman, immediately lunged and attempted to do so, then turned on a second woman and cornered her against a car, knife raised at her chest. That’s not brandishing that’s two felony assaults on unarmed people in less than 10 seconds. So the first problem is that the author of this piece isn’t willing to admit what really happened.
Already, people are viewing the body camera video of the teen wielding a knife and using it to rationalize or justify the police’s deadly use of force against Bryant. Yet police treated Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager carrying a far deadlier weapon openly in the streets after killing two people, with kid gloves, not arresting him and even giving him a water bottle.
Is this meant to be a time travel story? The police did give Kyle Rittenhouse water but that was earlier, before anyone had been shot. As for carrying a weapon openly in the street, that’s allowed in some places. The mere act of open carry doesn’t automatically render someone guilty. It’s true that police didn’t initially arrest him when he tried to surrender but it’s possible that’s because they didn’t know what he’d done. They weren’t standing a few feet away when the shootings happened. Moving on, the author finally gets to her own story:
By the time I was 12, I had already been jumped by a group of girls two times. I had been in so many fights that I lost count. To avoid confrontation, I chose to walk miles to school alone instead of riding the school bus. I lived my life in constant fear of my peers and my neighborhood. Eventually, that fear turned to anger.
One evening, a group of 20 to 30 teens arrived at my doorstep. News of an impending brawl between me and another girl had spread like wildfire, and they all descended to watch…
I marched toward my kitchen, grabbed a pot, and began to boil water on the stove. In my young mind, the scalding water would simply scare the intruders away, not cause serious burns. As the pot boiled, my eyes fell on a shiny object: the kitchen knife. I grabbed it and felt both terrified and empowered. I thought of the way blood tasted in my mouth when a girl kicked me in the face during an earlier fight.
First off, this situation sounds awful. Like the author, I find myself wondering where the adults were in this community and why this sort of thing was allowed to happen to anyone, especially young girls.
As for the incident with the mob at her home, she was probably within her rights to defend herself. If they’d broken in, I doubt she’d have been charged for it even if she injured people. You don’t have a right to storm into anyone’s house and threaten them. But then we get to the real turning point of the story. [emphasis added]
I am grateful the police never showed up on the day the kids arrived at my doorstep for a fight. As for me, that day did not end without violence. Fortunately, I never went outside with the knife or the pot of boiling water.
The whole premise of this piece is that the author could have been Ma’Khia Bryant, but the bottom line is that she never put herself in that same position. Even as a teen in a terrible and threatening situation, the author maintained some self control.
And here’s the really difficult part. If police had shown up and she was outside swinging a knife at people and verbally threatening to harm them, police would have been justified in shooting her to protect those unarmed people. That’s true even if those people should never have been there in the first place.
I think the author needs to really admit what Bryant did here because that’s the whole reason she was shot. Minimizing this as “brandishing” a knife isn’t being fair to the officer or the potential victims of violence in this situation.