While the calendar has ushered in a new year, the beginning of 2023 is also a painful reminder that injustice for Black people continues. And, in Columbus, Ohio, community residents gathered at a rally on January 7 at the Ohio Statehouse to express anger and frustration on a case involving the death of another Black youth. His name: Sinzae Reed.
Wednesday, October 12, 2022, was the last day Megan Reed spoke to her 13-year-old son, Sinzae. Unbeknownst to her, after a brief conversation with him in the kitchen, Sinzae left their Columbus, Ohio, apartment. News soon returned to Ms. Reed that her son had been shot and killed by a White neighbor, 36-year-old Krieg A. Butler.
Three months later, Ms. Reed, her family and community activists are still demanding justice after charges were dropped against Mr. Butler on October 19. “Forever my little baby, Forever 13,” said an emotional Megan Reed during the Jan. 7 protest. “The justice system has not only failed me and my baby but a lot of other families out there, too. Truth be told, if Krieg was ‘Tyrone’ and Sinzae was ‘little Billy,’ we wouldn’t even be out here today,” the Black mother said.
“We should not be fighting. There’s no more to say to that. The child was unharmed. Sinzae Reed was unharmed. Got shot in his right hand, which means he was holding his hand up,” expressed 20-year-old Makayla Nichols, a neighbor. “I know we’re being heard, but they don’t hear us. The law don’t hear us. The prosecutor don’t hear us. The judge don’t hear us,” she added. “So we won’t stop until they hear us, because Krieg Butler deserves to be rotting in prison.”
Witnesses reported to the family and to police that Mr. Butler exited a red truck, fired at Sinzae several times then returned to his vehicle and fled the scene. Sinzae died in the hospital from gunshot wounds. His family said to media outlets he was shot four or five times. There are many unanswered questions about what led up to the young boy’s death. No information has been released from any eyewitness accounts that there was any sort of prior conflict or confrontation between the two.
The next day, Mr. Butler was charged with murder and jailed with a $1 million bond. He was released after he and his mother claimed self-defense. The family and community still have not received much information regarding the death of Sinzae and are still questioning why it happened and the police’s narrative of events.
“I saw (my) baby’s lifeless body covered in blood and laying on the cold ground. I wasn’t even able to hold him and let him know mommy was there,” Ms. Reed said to reporters in a previous interview. “I was never supposed to be planning a funeral for my 13-year-old baby. Losing Sinzae is by far the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I am truly heartbroken.”
“Sinzae should be here. He was targeted. He had nothing to do with anything that had to do with Krieg Butler, and he just seemed to be targeted out of the blue, out of nothing, just by being there,” said activist Dejuan Sharp to The Final Call. “He was at the wrong place, wrong time and he was dead, and nobody cares that this grown man killed a kid.”
Activist Ramon Obey II described Sinzae Reed’s death as a “lynching of one of our young Black people here in Columbus.”
“When we heard about the details of a man who is 23 years older than Sinzae having the option to leave and not escalate a situation, but instead chose to use deadly force, especially on a kid, (who), from the eyewitnesses that we have and spoke to, had nothing to do with it—that was a heartbreaking moment,” he said to The Final Call.
Family and activists mobilized after the death of Sinzae. Mr. Sharp recounted that two rallies were held in October, one at city hall when the incident first occurred and one at the prosecutor’s building after Mr. Butler was released. He said authorities did not tell anyone Mr. Butler was released. “Nobody notified the family that Krieg was let out. And he lives right in the same neighborhood 100 yards away,” he said. He isn’t aware of any footage that could have captured the incident.
Since being released, Mr. Butler does not have an ankle monitor on and has been able to move around freely, Mr. Obey stated. “In fact, from what we spoke with Megan about … she was shopping for a shoe for Sinzae’s funeral, and a neighbor called her to let her know that Krieg was spotted in the neighborhood,” he added.
The Franklin County Prosecutor’s office filed the murder charge against Mr. Butler in Franklin County Municipal Court. The Final Call reached out to both the prosecutor’s office and the Columbus Division of Police. Both responded via email with pre-written statements.
The Oct. 27 statement from Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney G. Gary Tyack reads: “The Municipal Court does not have jurisdiction to hear felony cases except for a limited period of time. It is standard practice for almost every felony case filed in Municipal Court to be dismissed. Not every case initiated in Municipal Court is presented to the Grand Jury.
If the case is submitted to our office for review, we review the investigation to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed and whether it is appropriate to pursue the case. The only time limitation is the statute of limitations, which is several years. This particular case is still under review for possible presentation to the Grand Jury, and unfortunately, I cannot advise you when the case will be presented to the Grand Jury.”
Mr. Obey argued that it does not make sense to drop the charges against Mr. Butler.
“This is a man who has a prior conviction of domestic violence. He’s not supposed to have a gun based off of the federal law. This man, again, was on probation at the time. He shot within a school zone. And again, based off the current evidence that we do have, this kid was lynched here in Columbus,” he said. “So, it doesn’t make sense to drop it. Even if you’re still building a case around trying to get this dude convicted, I do believe he should be in jail with some high bond.”
Mr. Butler has spent the past 17 years in and out of court and in and out of jail. The Final Call discovered at least 21 charges that resulted in a guilty verdict from 2006 to 2022. Most of the charges were due to driving without auto insurance, driving under suspension and driving without a valid license in possession. Other guilty verdicts included a hit and run, receiving stolen property and harming a companion animal. Finally, in 2019, he was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence and granted probation.
According to the statement by the Columbus Division of Police, released Dec. 31, “During the Homicide review of the investigation, there was an allegation made by Mr. Butler that he acted in self-defense. The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, upon learning of this information, dismissed the charges against Mr. Butler pending the completion of the investigation. The Columbus Division of Police does not dismiss charges. We continue to investigate the circumstances of Mr. Reed’s death with the help of outside entities and are still awaiting key forensic and ballistic evidence.
“Once the investigation is complete, we will submit the packet to the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, who will determine whether to present to the Grand Jury,” the statement continued. “We are aware of the community’s concerns regarding the investigation and want to ensure the community that this investigation is far from over. The detectives assigned to the case are working diligently to present a complete and thorough investigation to the Franklin County Prosecutor. We ask for patience during this time. Once we are able to provide more information, we will. We have promised transparency and will continue to provide information when it can be released.”
“They’re telling us it’s being reviewed just because people have been calling in, and they’re just giving them the same story they gave us. Because they said they’re waiting on the autopsy, but the family been had a funeral. That was back in October,” Mr. Sharp said.
“The same thing they told us in October is the same thing they’re telling us now,” he added.
Mr. Obey, founder of the organization Justice, Unity and Social Transformation, or J.U.S.T. 614, and Mr. Sharp, founder of Columbus Downtownerz, said they have four demands:
1. the immediate arrest of Krieg Butler;
2. the removal of the county prosecutor Gary Tyack and the chief counsel of the grand jury unit, Marla Farbacher;
3. an apology from the city, county and state to Sinzae Reed’s family;
4. a Department of Justice investigation into the city’s law department, police force and municipal court system.
“It starts with Krieg Butler. We understand, again, the area in which Sinzae grew up in and was forced to live in is a violent area. It’s an area that is extremely poor without resources, bad housing, high rates of drug use, prostitution, and it would be asinine of us not to look at the bigger issue,” Mr. Obey stated. “There’s going to be many Sinzaes in the upcoming years if we don’t start to take back our neighborhoods and build back better, especially, we as community members, putting our own boots on the ground. So, I think for us personally, all of these things are doable, but we have to organize our people the correct way. And that’s what we’re attempting to do now.”
Columbus’ record of racism
Though Sinzae Reed was shot by a regular White citizen, Columbus’ police force itself has a history of Black fatalities. According to data compiled by the Ohio Population Health Alliance analyzing police shooting fatalities between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2020, Franklin County, where Columbus—the capital of the state of Ohio—is located, had the highest fatality rate among counties with 10 or more deaths for the six-year period, with a total of 38 deaths and an annual rate of 4.81.
Though the county contains 20 percent of Ohio’s Black population, it accounted for 33 percent of police interventions that resulted in the death of a Black person. Franklin County ranked 18 among the 100 most populous counties in the United States for police intervention fatalities per 1,000,000 population.
“I was speaking with someone else, and they said Columbus seems like such a regular city. And I had to kind of sit back. We might be under the radar in some areas, but we’re not really a regular city, especially when it comes to the violence that we face from the state, especially when it’s repressive violence dished out by this agency such as the police,” Mr. Obey said.
He named several Black people who have died at the hands of police in Columbus in just the past three years: 23-year-old Casey Goodson Jr., who was shot and killed by former Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Meade in December 2020, 47-year-old Andre Hill, who was also shot and killed in December 2020, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, killed April 2021 and 20-year-old Donovan Lewis, killed August 2022. Several of those cases will be seen in court this year, 2023.
Mr. Obey and activist Cecil Ahad brought up another recent case in Columbus concerning twins who went missing. They charged police officers with failing to call an Amber Alert, causing others to track down the twins and the kidnapper.
“We have to stop being fooled by what’s going on and start to understand how the system really works. … Sinzae is one of those cases that they would have loved to sweep under the rug, and we have to stop allowing them to sweep us under the rug,” Mr. Obey said. “We have to pull back that rug and show what the Columbus police, what the county prosecutor’s office, show the effects of what they really do to our community.”
“Police brutality and racism and all those things have already been declared by the Franklin County Commissioners’ Office and other offices here in Columbus, Ohio, and Franklin County, as … being a public health issue,” Mr. Ahad said to The Final Call.
In February 2022, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther also declared gun violence a public health crisis. Still, activists claim nothing is being done. Mr. Ahad argued that despite Franklin County having Black people in leadership—a Black police chief, a Black 1st assistant chief, a Black director of public safety, a Black inspector general and two Black commissioners—the problems are still ongoing.
“The whole system is a racist system. That’s just the bottom line,” he said.
Organizing into the future
The community and family have not let up on their calls for justice for Sinzae Reed. They held a news conference on New Year’s Day. Activists met at Atty. Tyack’s office to voice their demands on Jan. 5. And the march on Jan. 7 started at the Ohio Statehouse and they went to the city council on Jan. 9 to bring forth some of the problems within the Wedgewood community.
“And then from there, we’re going to start mobilizing that community of Wedgewood and start putting our boots on the ground there; start talking and trying to build with that community, so we can advocate for him directly and uplift their problems,” Mr. Obey said.
He noted that Columbus is a city to watch when it comes to police violence and racism.
“We have the police killings, we have the clear lynching of brother Sinzae Reed, and hopefully we’re able to convict Krieg Butler,” he said. He described the city as being riddled with questionable deaths of Black people at the hands of the state or people like Krieg Butler. Mr. Sharp argued that “they look at our Black children like adults.”
Student Minister Donell Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 43 in Columbus noted that even suburban neighborhoods in America are filled with violence and death in this day and time. “But the interesting thing about this case is, simply because you said you were standing your ground, they didn’t find no gun on the boy, so how do you propose he was shooting at you?
If somebody was shooting, it wasn’t him. He didn’t have a gun,” he said to The Final Call. He also inquired about the case against Mr. Butler being dismissed. “If I had shot a White man in that same neighborhood, I would still be in there until they got to the bottom of it. So why does he get a chance to get out until you gather more evidence and then you might reindict him? What’s that all about?” he questioned.
Student Min. Muhammad condemned the justice system and described it as a “’just us’ system” for White people. “It is a ‘criminal’ criminal justice system. There is no justice for us. And this is what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad has been telling our people,” he said to The Final Call. “That’s why separation is the only answer.” The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches that separation is the best and only solution to the race problem in America. “The price tag has gone up on the separation, now. We asked for a state or territory of our own. Well now, we’ve got to talk about more states,” Student Min. Donell Muhammad said.
He further stated that Black people must make a commitment regarding the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s words to “make our own communities safe and decent places to live.” He explained that the way to do that is to first knock on a neighbor’s door and introduce yourself.
“That’s how you begin to build rapport. Then people start coming to you when they have problems. Then we put our conflict resolution into play and we help them to manage and navigate through the madness,” he said.