Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump and Rev. Al Sharpton are officially involved in the case of Hunter Brittain, a 17-year-old unarmed man who was shot and killed by an Arkansas police officer. While Crump previously has represented white inmates, this is his first time working with the family of a white victim of a police shooting.
Brittain was shot to death on June 23 by a Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop. The incident took place in front of an auto repair shop in a Little Rock suburb. According to Brittain’s uncle, the young man had been up all night trying to fix his truck’s transmission. Other members of Brittain’s family told KATV that during the traffic stop, Hunter tried to use an oil jug to keep the vehicle from slamming into the officer’s car. At that point, the officer fired at the young man, who died at the hospital a little later. A 15-year-old who was in the passenger seat noted that the officer did not shout instructions at Brittain before shooting him.
Sergeant Mike Davis, the officer, was terminated from the Lonoke County sheriff’s office after it was revealed that he did not “activate his body camera in a timely way” during the traffic stop. This constituted a violation of department policy and means that there is no footage of the incident.
Crump and Sharpton Get Involved
Both Crump and Sharpton agreed that Brittain’s shooting could be “one of the most significant” cases in pushing Congress to pass meaningful police reform legislation. The attorney told CNN that the young man’s tragic death could be used to compel legislators to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which has been stalled in the Senate since early March.
Crump, who also represented the families of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Michael Brown, seemed to believe that a story about a white teenager allegedly being the victim of an unjust police shooting might change perceptions on the issue of police brutality when people see that it can happen to anyone of any race.
“That is going to be looked at differently because he wasn’t a teenager who was a child of color,” Crump told CNN. “Because we’ve always said that our White brothers and sisters couldn’t fathom their child being killed by the police. That people are supposed to protect them. But that’s a reality that parents of children of color literally deal with every day of their lives.”
Are They Right?
Both Crump and Sharpton have been subject to criticism from the right. Members of conservative media and Republican politicians have accused them of exploiting police shootings to demonize law enforcement. In addition, some have questioned why families would hire attorneys like Crump, who seem to use these incidents to push a political agenda.
However, high-profile conservatives may not have considered that there is no other option for most of these families, given that there is no conservative answer to the Crumps of the world. Indeed, regardless of what one thinks about Crump, people like him are the ones who show up to help. At the same time, many on the right appear to either justify the officer’s actions or refuse to take police brutality seriously.
Still, it is worth considering Crump’s point. Perhaps if people like him also focused more on white victims of police brutality — like Daniel Shaver, Ryan Whitaker, Duncan Lemp, and others — it might persuade more Americans, including conservatives, to be more amenable to the notion that police brutality is a problem that must be addressed. One could speculate that the reason why the activist media rarely focus on these cases is precisely that it might prompt outrage and demands for change from a broader swath of Americans, which could lead to solutions. After all, what would the press do with fewer instances of police brutality to exploit?