Is It Okay For Cops To Kill Outside Of Self-Defense: The Question Of Mikayah Bryant
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Roper v. Simmons that it is unconstitutional to give someone capital punishment for a crime they committed while they were a minor, no matter how horrible that crime is. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion for the case, argued that since young people do not have a proper understanding of the incorrect action they’ve done, executing them for an action they do not even fully understand violents the eighth amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Kennedy also looked at the nations that also engaged in such actions, and argued the United States should not be like them. As he put it:
[O]nly seven countries other than the United States ha[d] executed juvenile offenders … : Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and China.
The “Simmons” of this case was Christopher Simmons, a seventeen-year-old who, along with two of his plans, killed a woman. They bound her hands and covered her eyes, before driving their victim to a state park and throwing her off a bridge, killing her. What they did was certainly evil, and no human being could possibly defend it, but the Supreme Court determined in a 5–4 ruling (Justices Kennedy, Stevens, Souter, and Ginsberg agreed with the ruling while O’Conner, Scalia, Rehnquist, and Thomas dissented) that the state killing this person — no matter how much they may deserve it — was still wrong.
On 4/19/2021, sixteen-year-old Mikayah Bryant was killed by a police officer because of the possibility of her stabbing another person to death.
Even if Bryant were to kill this person — as the police officer believed she was going to — and went on trial for murder, she could not get the death plenty. A jury of her peers could not give Mikayah Bryant the same punishment the cop dolled out. Not only did he act as judge, jury, and executioner, he also acted as executioner against someone whom it was ruled unconstitutional to give an executioner. This is the part that cannot be stressed enough, even a jury, who can spend weeks hearing all sides of a case, cannot give this person the death penalty. Meanwhile, the police officer who was on the scene for less than a minute can.
I won’t deny what Mikayah Bryant did was wrong (as was what Christopher Simmons did and as was what Ernesto Miranda of Miranda v. Arizona did), but people do not do wrong things in a vacuum. For all we know, Bryant could have started acting in self-defense — people don’t just end up in knife fights, knife fights happen for a reason. Again, this is why it’s the goal of the police is to de-escalate the situation and arrest those involved, so more qualified people can hear the facts and determine if the person acted wrongly or not.
This is the same issue people had with the killing of thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo on 3/29/2021. Since then, we’ve heard non-stop about how Toldeo was a member of a gang and how his fellow gang members noted how great he was at killing and how he was basically the main character from Scarface. However, the officer had no way of knowing that, and even if he did know that killing someone who’s not attacking him is not his job. Toledo was complying with the orders of the officer (trained shooters can fire six shots in one second, the police officer had more than enough time to figure out Toledo had dropped his gun before he pulled the trigger) and as such could have been peacefully arrested and forced to stand trial for all his bad actions. If this happened, and if it was determined he was some kind of evil gang kingpin, he could not be given capital punishment based on his age.
This is the question that needs to be asked regarding these cases of a child being killed by police, do we want police to have more power than juries? This is at least a question I’m able to understand both sides of, obviously nobody wants a situation where an officer has no choice but to let another person die. However, these are the kind of tough questions that the pro-police side wants to pretend simply do not exist.
This is my biggest issue with the pro-police crowd, they often have a childish view of justice that comes down to “guy bad, therefore officer who kills bad guy good.” This is why we heard so much about George Floyd’s past, or the allegations against Jacob Blake, or the fact that Breonna Taylor had connections to drug traffickers. Going even farther back, this is why we heard so much about how Treyvon Martin smoked marijuana and owned a gun (I should also note that the man who shot Treyvon Martin, George Zimmerman, also owned a gun — in fact, a gun is what he used to kill Treyvon Martin). When the Furgeson police department released the bodycam footage of Darin Willson killing Michael Brown, they also released a video of Michael Brown robbing a convenience store because they thought that would make Brown seem less sympathetic.
Of course, it does not matter how much of a “bad guy” somebody is, they still have constitutional rights as long as they are in the United States of America. These include the right to a jury of their peers and protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Our founding fathers included this, not just to protect good people from punishment, but also to protect bad people from the actions of a bad nation. Bad people have rights — that’s why they’re called “universal rights” and not “privileges earned by ‘good people.’”
Our justice system is supposed to be summarized in four words: Innocent until proven guilty. Police officers in this country wish to violate our rights and act unconstitutionally, that should be the focus of the conversation around Mikayah Bryant.