Brave Wins Election, Becomes State’s Only Black Sheriff

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Mark Brave smiles as he poses outside the county court house in Dover, N.H., Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. Brave has won the election to become the only Black sheriff in New Hampshire. He defeated Republican Paul Callaghan in Strafford County. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press

A candidate running on a promise of law enforcement reforms has become New Hampshire’s only Black sheriff.

Mark Brave, who promised to increase transparency in the sheriff’s office and supports expanded use of body cameras, defeated Republican Paul Callaghan in Strafford County in Tuesday’s election, according to New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office. He is currently a lieutenant who oversees standards and training for the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office. 

A 35-year-old Democrat who supports the Black Lives Matter movement, Brave said he hopes to enact measures to ensure New Hampshire won’t face a situation like George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death occurred after a White officer pressed a knee against the handcuffed Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

“I feel humbled that county residents chose me to move forward going into this next phase of law enforcement for our communities,” said Brave, who believes he is the state’s first Black sheriff, though there are no state records to verify that. 

“It’s something I feel should have happened a long time ago, but I’m honored that I will be the person to pave the way,” he continued. “I will be a law enforcement leader for all residents of Strafford County regardless of their party affiliation.”

The New Hampshire Democratic Party also believes he is the first Black sheriff in the state’s history. Ahead of the election, 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.”

Callaghan said he has conceded to Brave. “I’m very proud of the campaign I ran and am grateful for the support across Strafford County. I wish Mark the best of luck the next 2 years,” he said in a statement.

Brave, a father of three who grew up in Massachusetts, has been featured at Black Lives Matter events and one of the co-founders of BLM Seacoast, Clifton West Jr, said ahead of the election that 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. 

Brave said he initially received criticism on social media over his support for Black Lives Matter. But that died down after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu embraced a series of recommendations from a panel examining police reform, he said. Among the reforms are overhauling police training standards, requiring state troopers to wear body cameras and establishing a public integrity unit.

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.

In another New Hampshire sheriff’s race, a self-described satanist whose campaign slogan disparaged the police lost her election bid.

Aria DiMezzo, a transgender woman in her early 30s who won the Republican primary, became a minor celebrity but also the target of online attacks for her unconventional campaign. She was beaten by Eli Rivera, a Democrat who has held the job since 2012.