COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine opened his Wednesday news conference with a discussion of Ohio police reform and an affirmation that “our justice system worked” in the conviction of ex-officer Derek Chauvin, but he didn’t mention the name of Ma’Khia Bryant — a 16-year-old girl shot to death by Columbus police the night before — even when directly questioned about the incident.
Instead, the governor discussed broad-strokes police reform issues for which he has advocated, including equipping all highway patrol officers with body cameras, convening a task force to establish standards for police responding to protests and his push to create statewide databases cataloguing officers’ use-of-force incidents.
“It is time that, in Ohio, we begin to treat law enforcement as the professionals that they are,” he said, adding that other professions — doctors prominent among them — are held accountable by state advisory, oversight and discipline boards.
And then he moved on to an anti-littering Earth Day initiative and discussion of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the issue of Bryant’s death only when questioned later by reporters.
“Let’s let the facts come out,” DeWine said of the teenager’s death. “We need to be patient and wait and let the facts take us wherever the conclusion is.”
Bryant died Tuesday night in Columbus. Police responding to a 911 call for help arrived at the house and found Bryant swinging a knife at another another girl or woman, as body camera released by the Columbus Police Department shows. In the recording, the responding officer shouts several times to get down.
Bryant then charges at another girl or woman, who is pinned against a car. From a few feet away, with people on either side of him, the officer fires four shots, and Bryant slumps to the ground. A black-handled blade similar to a kitchen knife or steak knife lies on the sidewalk next to her.
Members of Bryant’s family have claimed she made the initial 911 call asking for help because other teenagers were harassing her. Police reform and Black Lives Matter advocates have questioned the responding officer’s decision to fire four shots at a teenager armed with a knife.
DeWine encouraged Ohioans to wait for the Columbus Police Department’s assessment of the incident and said he feels for Bryant’s family.
“My message to any family who has lost a child is that there’s nothing worse, and my heart goes out to you,” he said. “Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to you. I’m sorry for your loss.”
He did not say Bryant’s name.
Unvaccinated Ohioans at greater risk due to COVID-19 variants
COVID-19 vaccine uptake has slowed in Ohio, DeWine said in the portion of the news conference dedicated to the pandemic. Although about 40% of Ohioans have received one shot and 27% are fully vaccinated, fewer Ohioans are seeking their first dose even as supply of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine increases.
Older people are getting vaccinated at higher rates than younger people despite the vaccine being available to all Ohioans over 15. Some Ohioans who view themselves as safe from COVID-19 complications are opting out.
This is a problem, according to DeWine and Ohio Department of Health medical advisor Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.
The danger comes chiefly from the evolution of COVID-19 variant strains that are more contagious than the strain that landed in the United States during 2020, Vanderhoff said. Young people who avoid vaccination because they believe their own health is robust are more likely to transmit the virus to other unvaccinated people than they would have been in the previous year.
Vanderhoff described the state as split in half: People with at least one shot granting them a high degree of protection from COVID-19 and people who are unvaccinated, vulnerable now to a virus that has gotten more infectious.
The pair premiered two public service announcements meant to encourage teens and young adults to get the shot, even if they are not personally concerned about their health.
DeWine added that cases in the state overall appear to have reached a new plateau — higher than he’d like, but not actively rising.
ODH reported 1,789 new cases, 138 new hospitalizations and 12 new ICU admissions between Tuesday and Wednesday.