|A mostly white crowd protests the fatal shooting of Hunter Brittain|
America's police-brutality problem has been framed in black and white, largely because significant evidence indicates people of color absorb the brunt of abuse that rogue cops dish out. But recent events in Arkansas might broaden that narrative a bit, suggesting police misconduct should concern (and anger) all Americans -- and that no one, of any color, is immune to it.
At the heart of the Arkansas case is Hunter Brittain, a white youth who was fatally shot by a white sheriff's deputy during a traffic stop in Beebe (pop. 7,315). Prominent black civil-rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Ben Crump, have called attention to the case. From a report at ualrpublicradio.org:
One day after a sergeant with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office was fired regarding the shooting death of a 17-year-old during a traffic stop, a memorial service [was] planned in Beebe, Ark. The funeral for the white McRae, Ark., teeanger, Hunter Brittain, was scheduled to feature nationally-known civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton.
Sheriff John Staley announced in a video posted to social media Thursday that Sgt. Micheal Davis was terminated for violating department policy by not turning on his body camera before the encounter with Brittain. Meanwhile the district’s prosecuting attorney is asking a special prosecutor to determine whether the former officer will face criminal charges.
As so often is the case where victims of police violence are black, it's hard to understand why the use of deadly force was deemed necessary in the Brittain shooting:
The teen’s uncle Jesse Brittain has said he was unarmed and holding a can of antifreeze after working on his truck when he was shot three times by Davis. The family has chosen to be represented in court by attorneys Benjamin Crump (of Tallahassee, FL) and Devon M.Jacob (of Mechanicsburg, PA), who have handled several high-profile civil rights cases such as the Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery cases.
Most recently, the attorneys represented the family of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes. The former officer involved in that incident, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced last week to 22 years in prison.
Ben Crump, known as the nation's "black attorney general," has spoken out about the Brittain shooting:
Crump released a statement on Thursday evening, after Staley’s announcement of the firing of the deputy, approving the sheriff’s actions.
“Body cameras are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the only way to see the unbiased facts surrounding a police and civilian encounter resulting in injury and/or death. When officers turn their body cameras off, they turn off their intent to be transparent along with it,” the statement said.The lawyers are not the only civil rights leaders who have come out in support of the white Arkansas teenager’s case. The Jacksonville, Ark. chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People has expressed condolences for Brittain’s family and friends, and pledged to stand alongside them in their fight for justice in his death.
What is the sheriff's office version of events?
The sheriff’s office says on June 23, the teenager was pulled over for a traffic stop at approximately 3 a.m. on Arkansas 89 south of Cabot. The stop resulted in Sgt. Davis discharging his weapon, with the teenager dying at a North Little Rock hospital.
That evening a crowd of about 200 people gathered outside the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office to protest the shooting. Chants of “No justice, no peace” could be heard by the crowd.
There are signs the Brittain case already has gone beyond the boundaries of race:
Reginald Ford, vice president of the NAACP chapter, said in an interview with KUAR News on Thursday that he felt the mostly white crowd using a chant often heard during George Floyd demonstrations was appropriate given Brittain’s situation.
“It doesn’t bother us at all. We don’t have a problem with that because — equity — it’s not tied to just one group of people,” Ford said.
Asked why the NAACP felt the need to become involved in Brittain’s case, since the deceased is a white teen, Ford said it all comes down to equity.
“I think the premise is that the NAACP only cares about equity when it comes to minorities and that is untrue,” Ford said. “I think that’s an idea that’s been propagated too much. We deal with equity regardless of who it is. There’s no real difference, really.”
A press release from the group said members are monitoring the situation and are reassured that authorities say there will be a thorough investigation into the death. “We stand with the family of Hunter Brittain. As a civil rights organization, equity for all people regardless of race is of the utmost importance,” the press release read.
Sheriff Staley said in an exclusive interview on Wednesday, that he welcomes the NAACP’s involvement in the family’s hunt for justice.
“They want the same thing I want. I want to do what’s right and not what’s easy. That’s why we immediately called the state police to do an investigation,” said Staley.