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Politics & Policy

Jen Psaki’s Deceptions about Columbus

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Why is the Biden administration risking the reputation and potentially the life of the police officer who was forced to discharge his weapon in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday? The officer in question fired on and tragically killed Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16 year-old living in foster care, to protect not his own life, but that of another young woman Bryant was rearing back to stab on Tuesday, and who only avoided grave injury, and possibly death, thanks to the officer’s use of force.

From the White House briefing room yesterday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke out on the incident:

She was a child. We’re thinking of her friends and family in the communities that are hurting and grieving her loss. 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. We also know that there are particular vulnerabilities that children in foster care, like Ma’Khia, face. . . . The White House is focused on addressing systemic racism and bias “head on” and passing laws that will put in place reforms at police departments around the country

There’s a whole lot of base-stealing here. The officer did not show up on the scene because of some amorphous force like systemic racism or implicit bias. He showed up because he was asked to by a 911 caller who reported that attempted stabbings were taking place. Moreover, he did not discharge his weapon because of Bryant’s race, but because she was an imminent threat to another, innocent black woman’s life.

Psaki has turned this event into an abstraction: “police violence” perpetrated on “a child.” Divorced from context, it makes the officer out to be a monster. But anyone who has subjected themselves to the upsetting body-camera footage can plainly see that he was forced to make a split-second decision about whether to stop Bryant from plunging her weapon into her would-be victim. I think most reasonable people would conclude that he made the right one, even while wishing that Bryant were alive today.

If Jen Psaki and Joe Biden are willing to cast aspersions upon the decision he made and the motivations for that decision, they should be made to answer exactly what would have been the right way to respond in such a situation. Without a realistic and detailed answer addressing the facts on the ground — not the abstraction Psaki described — they’re just two privileged, powerful people preying upon a tragedy for political benefit.


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