When he started his campaign, Mark Brave heard from some voters that police reforms and tackling racial injustice shouldn't be a priority in New Hampshire. What's the point, they say, in a mostly white state that has no headline-making cases about Black people dying at the hands of police?
But Brave, a Democrat who would become the state's only Black sheriff if he defeats Republican Paul Callaghan in Strafford County, said enacting reforms now helps ensure New Hampshire won’t face a situation like George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, which occurred after a white officer pressed a knee against the handcuffed Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes.
As a lieutenant who oversees standards and training for the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office, Brave wants more transparency there and greater diversity among deputies. He supports having body cameras for law enforcement officers and a statewide database that could track troubled officers.
“It’s only a matter of time before the issues that we are seeing in other states find us here and we will be prepared for it,” said Brave, 35. “We will have a good foundation to attack the issue of racial injustice, educating officers, figuring out how to help with mental health.”
He has received pushback on social media, especially over his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Early on, his Facebook page was littered with comments questioning his support for the movement, which some commenters called terrorists and others wrongly conflated with far-left-leaning militant groups.
But the attacks have died down, possibly helped by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu embracing recommendations from a panel examining police reform, he said. Among them are overhauling police training standards, requiring state troopers to wear body cameras and establishing a public integrity unit.
“A lot of people try to shy away from the conversation but I'm going to stand firm and continue the conversation and not let it die down,” said Brave, who grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and also worked in policing in Massachusetts and Maine.
Callaghan, who is white, has also supported police reform measures, including those in Sununu's order. A lieutenant prosecutor and commander in the sheriff's office investigative unit, Callaghan plays up his more than three decades in law enforcement, including as police chief in Kittery, Maine.
Callaghan, 56, said he'd work to increase workforce diversity, consider officers' mental wellness and implement de-escalation training.
“We want to avoid using force when the mission can be safely accomplished without it,” Callaghan said by email.
Callaghan said he also wants to enhance the county’s ability to investigate and prosecute the financial exploitation of older adults.
When it comes to Black Lives Matter, Callaghan said he supports peaceful protests but opposes some proposals he associates with the group, such as removing resource officers from schools and ending qualified immunity for police officers.
Brave countered that the local BLM movement he backs doesn't support removing police from schools and only wants qualified immunity “re-examined.”
The sheriff's office is mostly involved in transporting prisoners, serving warrants, and assisting smaller towns in the county. Deputies also transport immigrants being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the county jail — an arrangement the sheriff has authority to refuse, but that Brave and Callaghan both support.
The two men, who see each other at work almost every day, agreed to keep the campaign positive and have had a relatively low-key race to succeed four-term Sheriff David Dubois, a Democrat. But the possibility of Brave becoming the state's only Black sheriff has garnered attention.
Brave has been featured at Black Lives Matter events and one of the co-founders of BLM Seacoast, Clifton West Jr, said Brave's push for significant reforms “is amazing to see and signals the growing need and want from the public for racial equality in this state.”
A leader of the county's growing Indonesian community has also endorsed Brave, as did a veteran state senator who has worked on issues of race.
The chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Ray Buckley, called Brave a trailblazer who would "bring both his lived experiences as a seasoned law enforcement officer and as a Black man living in America to help confront racism and issues of bias in law enforcement.”
Brave said winning in November would demonstrate to his three children that he was not simply calling out racial injustice and police wrongdoing but putting himself in a position to do something about those challenges.
“It's just something where I'm breaking down that boundary, breaking that wall down so that another kid of a different ethnicity or who is LGBTQ can say that ‘I can do that too,’” he added.