Following the announcement of two federal probes into the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, announced he welcomed a similar inquiry following the shooting death of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant.
“This is not about one particular officer, policy, or incident; rather, this is about reforming the entire institution of policing in Columbus,” Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and City Attorney Zach Klein wrote in a letter addressed to the Department of Justice. “Simply put: We need to change the culture of the Columbus Division of Police.”
In a letter to the DOJ, Ginther and Klein expressed the city needed oversight to combat the “fierce opposition” to reform in the police department.
If the DOJ heads the urging from city leaders, it would mark the second probe into local law enforcement over the last 30 years. Under the Clinton administration the DOJ launched a lawsuit against the Columbus Police Department which was settled in 2002. However the city remains a dangerous place for Black community members who often make up the majority of victims in excessive use of force cases.
According to NBC News, leadership in the city’s police union said that city cops “are always willing to work with any entity to improve policing in the communities they protect and serve. Politicians constantly vilifying officers breeds contempt for authority, emboldens the criminal element and has led to a mass exodus of law enforcement officers from the profession,” Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of the local union, said in a statement.
Activists and Black community leaders have urged reform in the city following the Black Lives Matter protests last summer around the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, just a few of the deaths that occurred during the height of the pandemic. This week Ginther met with local activists to discuss the findings of a report spearheaded by a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and Ohio State University, which found the Columbus Police Department lacked readiness and efficient communication during the protests.
Meanwhile, Ma’Khia’s family backs a large-scale probe not just into the police department’s handling but a collective overhaul.
“We’re going to investigate every agency that had a time and an opportunity to prevent Ma’Khia’s death,” Michelle Martin, the family attorney said on Wednesday.
Martin backs the federal probe, but also wants to focus on launching an investigation into the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the state’s foster care system as Ma’Khia was a ward of the state.
Ma’Khia’s death follows the shooting deaths of two other Columbus shootings involving Andre Hill and Casey Goodson Jr., marking a similar trio of death in Minnesota over the past five years with three high-profile police involved fatalities, Philando Castile, Floyd and Daunte Wright. In Louisville, the shooting death of another Black woman, Breonna Taylor, links Ma’Khia’s death to the ways in which Black women are also uniquely targeted in regards to police violence.
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