By Tyler Behm
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) – The mayor of Columbus, Ohio, said on Friday that the air pistol brandished at police by a black, 13-year-old boy as he was shot dead by a white officer this week was nearly indistinguishable from weapons carried by members of the city’s police force.
Mayor Andrew Ginther appeared with Police Chief Kim Jacobs for a tense community meeting of more than 200 people, most of them African-American, who were invited to ask questions of city officials at the church gathering for just over an hour.
But Ginther and Jacobs, who are both white, along with the city’s public safety director, Ned Pettus, who is black, had few new details to offer about circumstances leading to the fatal shooting on Wednesday of Tyre King.
The officials appealed for patience on the part of the public while investigations of the incident continue.
“Everyone here is emotional. We’re all hurting,” Pastor Jason Ridley of the Central Seventh-Day Adventist Church, who hosted the gathering, said of the crowd’s mood, which grew angry as officials concluded the session after about 30 questions, leaving many others wanting to speak.
“So we don’t get a voice?” one woman shouted, drawing applause and jeers before she was removed by security officers.
According to a police account of the shooting, officer Bryan Mason, a nine-year veteran of the force, shot King multiple times after the youth drew what appeared to be a handgun from his waistband during an encounter with police in an alley.
It was later determined to be an air pistol that fires BBs – small, metal, ball-bearing-like pellets, not bullets.
But according to Ginther, the BB gun looks “almost identical” to the 9-milimeter Glock semi-automatic handguns carried by Columbus police officers.
The mayor said police in the Ohio state capital, who have no video footage of the fatal shooting, are expected to begin equipping their officers with body cameras early next year, a step other big-city departments have implemented to provide “additional oversight and accountability.”
Police who confronted the boy were responding to reports of an armed robbery by a man who told officers that a group of males had demanded money and threatened him with a gun. King was one of three young suspects police had sought to apprehend, according to authorities.
King’s family members have said in a statement released by their lawyers that the version of events related by Mason, a nine-year veteran of the police who has been placed on leave, conflicted with accounts of witnesses.
King’s death comes nearly two years after the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was black, by a white Cleveland police officer responding to reports of a suspect with a gun in a city park. An investigation revealed Rice had a replica gun that shoots plastic pellets.
Rice’s death became a rallying point for the Black Lives Matter movement and was one of a number of deaths that led to nationwide demonstrations against the use of excessive force against minorities, especially young black men, by police.
Columbus has remained calm since King’s death. Family and friends held a prayer vigil on Thursday near where the boy was shot.
(Additional reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland, Laila Kearney in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)