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Funeral For Arkansas Teen Killed By Officer Includes Biracial Call For Justice

Rev. Al Sharpton, at the podium, speaks during Tuesday's funeral service for 17-year-old Hunter Brittain who was shot and killed last week by a sergeant with the Lonoke County Sheriff's Office.
Christine Jones
/
KUAR News

Beebe, Ark. – A memorial service was held Wednesday for Hunter Brittain, the 17-year-old who was gunned down last month by a Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy during a routine traffic stop.

Hundreds of friends and family gathered at the Beebe Schools Auditorium to remember Brittain’s life, with most of the attendees wearing #JusticeforHunter t-shirts. Among the speakers were several local pastors, as well as nationally-known civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and civil rights activist, the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Crump spoke before Sharpton, explaining to the congregation how he and the reverend came to be involved in the case and finished by leading the audience in a chant of “Hunter Brittain’s life matters!”

“We’re here on July 6, 2021 because when Jesse Brittain, and his mother Becky Payne, his uncle Harley Brittain, and so many others here in the state of Arkansas, called saying we needed to give a national voice over the tragic killing of a 17-year-old white teenager in Lonoke, Arkansas,” Crump said. “We came here today to proclaim in unity that America, President Biden, the governor of Arkansas, and people all over the world will stand up with us and say that Hunter Brittain’s life matters.”

Crump then introduced Rev. Sharpton, referring to him as America’s civil rights leader. Sharpton began his eulogy by telling the story of how Crump reached out to him and asked him to lend his voice to the quest for justice for Brittain. He said that when he found out that Brittain was a white teen, he decided then that they must come to Arkansas.

“Whatever we have to do I want to be there, because I want his family to know that we don’t come for just one race. We come for what’s right,” Sharpton said.

He defended himself against rumors and remarks that he only came to Arkansas to attend Brittain’s funeral for publicity purposes by stating that he, in fact, did.

“I am going to Beebe to get publicity. I want the whole world to know the name of Hunter Brittain, and if my coming can help bring some publicity, then that’s what I’m supposed to do. I don’t apologize for that,” said Sharpton, which earned him a standing ovation from the congregation.

He then said that justice should be given to everybody and should not have to be qualified. Sharpton also urged the congregation to continue to protest and march in the name of Brittain and all the others who have been killed unjustly by police.

“We need to condemn wrong no matter who is wrong. It’s wrong for those teenagers that are killing each other in Little Rock. It’s wrong for those policemen that shoot first and ask questions later. Wrong is wrong, whether you have on blue jeans or blue uniforms. Wrong is wrong is wrong is wrong,” Sharpton said.

Many members of the Jacksonville chapter of the NAACP were also in attendance at the funeral to lend support for the family. In addition, the chapter helped to plan a protest for after the funeral, located across the street from the Lonoke County Sheriff’s office in Lonoke. Kwami Abdul-Bey, political action chair of the chapter, acted as master of ceremonies for the afternoon.

“A lot of people are asking why is the NAACP out here fighting for a white teenager that was killed by the police… we’re out here because justice does not have a qualifier. Justice doesn’t have a color. Justice doesn’t have a sex. Justice doesn’t have a gender. Justice is justice,” Abdul-Bey said.

As well as having a booth with pizza and drinks for whoever was at the rally, there were several additional booths set up for the protestors. One was a voter registration booth and the other was a booth to sign petitions to stop several Arkansas laws from becoming legislation.

Hunter Brittain's uncle Jesse Brittain, attorney Benjamin Crump and the teenager's pastor Rick Lehr take part in a rally after the funeral Tuesday outside the Lonoke County Sheriff's Office.
Credit Christine Jones / KUAR News
Hunter Brittain's uncle Jesse Brittain, attorney Benjamin Crump and the teenager's pastor Rick Lehr take part in a rally after the funeral Tuesday outside the Lonoke County Sheriff's Office.

The point of the voter registration booth was to sign up as many of Hunter Brittain’s friends and family as possible to help get the family’s proposed bill for Hunter’s Law passed by legislators since you must be a registered voter to sign a petition. Hunter’s Law would require all Arkansas police officers to wear body cameras throughout the entire length of their shifts rather than just turning them on when they’re on a call to keep law enforcement officers accountable.

“The only way we’re going to pass this law is if we get everybody out here to support us. So once we get this all written up and everything, we gotta have everybody’s support. I know he said 70,000 signatures earlier and man, we’re gonna need every person out here’s help to do that,” said Scott Hendrickson, a family friend.

In addition to supporting Hunter’s Law, the NAACP called for the decertification of Sgt. Michael Davis, the now former Lonoke County deputy who fatally shot Brittain. According to Abdul-Bey, the sheriff of Lonoke County has the opportunity to ensure that Davis never works as a police officer again by filling out the proper paperwork within 10 days of Davis’ firing. Davis was fired for violating department procedure by not turning on his body camera at the start of the traffic stop. Sheriff John Staley has until Friday to file that form.

“What we have to do is we have to make sure that the sheriff understands that we want this officer decertified. Why is decertification important? Decertification is important because this officer that murdered Hunter, if he’s not decertified he can end up working for the Little Rock Police Department next week,” said Abdul-Bey

When contacted by KUAR News to ask about whether he had a response to the events of the day, Sheriff Staley’s statement remained the same as before the funeral.

“I continue to pray for those involved as we await the Arkansas State Police and the prosecutor’s findings,” said Staley.

A state police spokesman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Friday that an investigation file would be turned over to the local prosecutors office within seven to 10 days to determine if Davis will face criminal charges.

The rally included several additional speakers, including Brittain’s family pastor Rick Lehr and his uncle Jesse Brittain. The message throughout the rally was the same, calling for the human race to come together to combat the issue of police brutality and also to sign up to vote so that their voices could be heard on Election Day. Benjamin Crump closed out the rally with the message to get registered to vote in order to make a difference.

“I especially want to encourage you all. If you really want justice for Hunter, you can’t just talk about it, you gotta be about it. That means that you gotta be registered to vote… you all have to remember that if you’re not a registered voter, you’re just out here having a pep rally,” said Crump.

The rally then wrapped up with a few words from Brittain’s uncle Jesse and a thank you for all who came out to support the cause.

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