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OPINION

Ma’Khia Bryant deserved better in life — and death

Like too many Black girls and women killed by police, the teenager was not afforded lasting attention or outrage.

People protest the police killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, in Columbus, Ohio, on April 21. The shooting happened the previous day when police responded to a 911 call.
People protest the police killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, in Columbus, Ohio, on April 21. The shooting happened the previous day when police responded to a 911 call.Amr Alfiky/NYT

In a casket lined in blue, her favorite color, Ma’Khia Bryant was laid to rest last week in Columbus, Ohio.

At the homegoing service for the 16-year-old Black girl shot to death April 20 by a white police officer, the Rev. Al Sharpton was not in attendance to deliver one of his fiery eulogies as he did for George Floyd last year in Houston, Daunte Wright last month in Minneapolis, and Andrew Brown Jr. on Monday in Elizabeth City, N.C. Like Bryant, all were victims of police violence.

Benjamin Crump, the lawyer Sharpton calls “Black America’s attorney general,” wasn’t there to demand justice or declare that Bryant’s life mattered. There were no celebrities, no saturation cable news coverage of her funeral, and no nationwide calls to “say her name.”

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I’m not criticizing Sharpton or Crump’s absence. Given the levels of police violence, it can seem like they never sleep as they rush from one grieving Black family to another. Yet it does emphasize how police violence against Black girls and women rarely draws the same widespread attention and calls for accountability afforded to men.

Many know about Breonna Taylor, the young EMT shot to death in her apartment by Louisville police during a no-knock raid in March 2020. Yet it took more than two months for her killing to garner national scrutiny, and it only came during the furor over Floyd’s murder.

Not since Sandra Bland, who was found dead in a Texas jail cell days after she was arrested during a traffic stop, had a Black woman’s death after a police encounter gotten so much attention. While many remember the names of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Philando Castile, the same cannot be said of Atatiana Jefferson, Bettie Jones, Michelle Cusseaux, and Tanisha Anderson. Their deaths do not foster the same sustained outrage and demands for change that often follow the killings of men.

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It is emblematic of misogynoir, the specific hatred faced by Black women and girls at the intersection of race and gender.

Police kill Black people disproportionately, and the majority of those who die are Black men. Yet in her 2017 book, “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color,” Andrea J. Ritchie found that Black women are 17 percent more likely than white women to be stopped by police. And they are more commonly killed by police in their homes, during traffic stops, and while in mental distress.

Despite Columbus police quickly releasing video of Bryant’s shooting, there remain more questions than answers. Outside the foster home where she lived, the teen was engaged in a fight with at least one other person. Within 10 seconds of officer Nicholas Reardon’s arrival, he shot Bryant multiple times.

Yes, she was wielding a knife against another person, perhaps in self-defense. She never threatened the officer, who made no attempt to deescalate the heated altercation between Bryant and others. The murky narrative has devolved into Bryant being held responsible for her own death — which happened on the day that Derek Chauvin was found guilty of Floyd’s murder.

Such victim-blaming ignores that Columbus police have a significant history of excessive force, especially against Black people. A federal judge last week ruled that the Columbus police must cease using tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and batons on nonviolent protesters. “Clothed with the awesome power of the state,” Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio wrote, officers had “run amok” during last year’s protests sparked by the killing of Floyd.

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Reardon remains on paid leave. Bryant’s family received an honorary high school diploma for a dead girl.

“Ask yourselves, ‘What are you doing to make sure no more Ma’Khias are taken from us?’ What are you doing?” said Don Bryant, Ma’Khia’s cousin, at the funeral. “Are we just talking about it or are we doing something about it? Doing nothing is not an option.”

In the audience was Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother.

Bryant’s funeral was the third since December at First Church of God in Columbus for a Black person killed by police. In his impassioned statements, Bishop Timothy J. Clarke said of the teenager, “We are not going to commit her remains to the ground and forget her.”

Her family wearing blue, Bryant’s service ended with a singer’s rendition of Patti LaBelle’s “When It’s All Over.” Like too many other Black girls and women before her, it seemed as if the nation has already forgotten Bryant, with few beyond the church still saying her name or uplifting her memory as a cry for justice.

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Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.