Police Debate Shifts: Eric Adams, Al Sharpton, and the Killing of Hunter Brittain

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By Quentin Choy

July 7, 2021

Eric Adams Wins in New York

Former police captain Eric Adams won the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City. Since the majority of New York City votes Democratic, Eric Adams is likely to be elected mayor in November.

Adams ran a blue-collar campaign aimed at the issues of crime and poverty within the city. He capitalized on his experience as a former police chief to demonstrate that Democrats, especially in major cities can take a strong role against both poverty and crime, both of which have increased in New York City.

According to Reuters, “shooting incidents are up nearly two-thirds over last year in New York City, from 386 through mid-June in 2020 to 634 in 2021.”

During the campaign, Adams described being harassed and beaten by the police as a teenager. He founded the organization 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care which sought to oppose NYPD’s aggressive stop and frisk policy.

Eric Adams, former police chief has won the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City. Courtesy of Twitter.

Performing well with working-class Black and Latino communities as well as moderate white voters, Adams ran a blue-collar campaign. He represents a compromise between activists who have called for “defunding the police” and moderate voters who believe police should be reformed rather than defunded. Using his identity as a former police captain himself, many New Yorkers viewed him as the best candidate to take on the issue of crime while also being able to reform the police and limit police brutality.

Either way, Adams is a fascinating character and is unlike many in the Democratic Party except Val Demings, who was also a police chief in Orlando. While traditional in several aspects of Democratic positions, Adams ultimately represents a turning away from the national, activist section of the party and aims to be more local than other mayors are who become involved in national politics.

The Killing of Hunter Noah Brittain

In the small town of McRae, just outside of Little Rock, an Arkansas teenager named Hunter Brittain was shot dead by police during a traffic stop. Brittain was shot outside of an auto shop at the age of 17. His killing which occurred around 3 AM resulted in the firing of Sgt. Michael Davis, whose body camera was off.

According to his obituary, Hunter Brittain dreamt of becoming a NASCAR driver and loved outdoor activities like fishing, four-wheeling, and dirt biking. On the website containing his obituary lies a tribute wall with several comments from people living in Hunter’s community as well as from people outside of Arkansas paying their respects.

Hunter Brittain was killed at age 17. Courtesy of WQAD.

One user wrote “He was a good kid. He would help anybody and give you the shirt off his back. Always thinking about others before himself. #JusticeForHunter.”

Another commented, writing “I do not know Hunter or his family but my heart breaks for y’all! Sending prayers and love!”

White County, the county containing McRae is heavily conservative, with 78 percent of the county having voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 election. However, the killing of someone so young in such a small town showed that while police brutality usually impacts minorities in large cities, it can happen anywhere when police reform and accountability is not enacted.

People in Hunter’s community seeking justice for his killing. Courtesy of El Dorado News-Times

Hunter’s funeral service was held at his school, and it was attended by Reverend Al Sharpton as well as attorneys for George Floyd’s family.

Jesse Brittain, Hunter’s uncle commented on the need to end qualified immunity for officers which in many cases protects them from civil lawsuits and prevent justice from being carried out for victims and their families.

Reverend Sharpton commented on the need for police reform across racial lines in a county that is 90 percent white, saying “Hunter did nothing wrong, just like we felt George Floyd did nothing wrong. But if we segregate how we react, then we’re wrong.”

This point is excellent and marks a crucial turn in the fight for police reform. Even if black and brown people are killed at disproportionately higher rates than white people, police reform helps everyone. The killing of an innocent teenager by an officer meant to protect him and his community is wrong no matter what race the slain belonged to.

Reverend Al Sharpton and the Floyd Attorneys at Hunter Brittain’s funeral. Courtesy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Some people online opposed the presence of Sharpton and Floyd’s attorneys, saying that it was a political stunt meant to turn communities against the police.

One user wrote this comment on Hunter’s tribute wall.

“Why Al Sharpton?  he is a racist only coming for the sake of stirring up more Democrat carp [crap] among the white and black races Hunter deserves only home town folks doing his funeral not some racist looking for more television coverage please reconsider this person at Hunter’s funeral he could care less about Hunter ! E .L . Bartlett a concerned AMERICAN NOT A RACIST!!! BLESS YOUR FAMILY SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS IT WASN’T RIGHT!!!!”

User E.L. Bartlett

Sharpton acknowledged that his presence was meant to draw attention, saying “I want the whole world to know the name of Hunter Brittain. And if my coming can bring some publicity, then that’s what I’m supposed to do.” This is crucial to show that Sharpton is fighting for police reform from a principled standpoint, not a political one.

I think it was incredibly important for Reverend Sharpton and Floyd family lawyers to be at the funeral of Hunter Brittain to show that police accountability is important to every member of every community.

For some conservatives like the people of White County who may have felt alienated by the Black Lives Matter movement that swept the nation last summer, the death of Hunter Brittain is a turning point and shows that police accountability matters and can affect even small communities like theirs.

Courtesy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The presence of Al Sharpton and the attorneys who fought to bring George Floyd his justice shifts the debate over police reform. The people of Arkansas who knew Hunter Brittain will remember that when few media outlets covered his death, some of the people who fought hardest to honor George Floyd came to pay their respects to a young, white boy who they did not know.

A Growing Movement?

So, how does the election of Eric Adams in New York and the killing of a teenager in Arkansas connect to each other? First, Eric Adams will become the most powerful mayor in the country, and he used to be a former police captain in one of the Democratic Party’s strongest blue bastions. He says that he will support his community while also reforming the NYPD. Adams is a clear divergence from the activist wing of the party which calls to “defund the police.”

Hunter Brittain’s death represents a reality check for white conservatives living in small communities that police brutality can occur even in remote places like McRae, Arkansas. The need for police reform and accountability is even clearer now, and they have seen first hand what can happen if the police are not held to account in some form.

A community has seen the results of police without reform or accountability. Courtesy of 9News.

The presence of Reverend Al Sharpton and the Floyd attorneys reveal a wider incorporation of communities across America, showing that their fight for police reform isn’t limited to race or politics but is a principle that Americans should fight for, no matter their race or politics. Their presence also made Hunter’s community feel less alienated by calls for police reform and showed the true need for such reform across the country if they want to see #JusticeForHunter.

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Quentin Choy, creator of <em>WeTheCommoners Blog</em>
Quentin Choy, creator of WeTheCommoners Blog

Quentin is a student of Political Science. He became interested in history and politics in 2015 watching the Republican and Democratic primaries as well as the 2016 General Election.

He is from Hawaii and currently attends school in Colorado.

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