Ben Crump, says Rev. Al Sharpton, is “Black America’s attorney general”.
In less than a decade, the Florida-based attorney has become the voice of the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd – blacks whose deaths from police and vigilante groups sparked a movement.
He has won tens of millions of dollars in settlements in police brutality cases. He has urged cities to ban arrest warrants. He told a congressional committee that reforms are needed because “it has become painfully obvious that we have two judicial systems; one for white Americans and one for black Americans. ”
And he stands with black farmers grappling with an agribusiness giant and families exposed to lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.
“He’s a firm believer in what he’s doing. He took the attacks. He’s been taking on the cases that others would not, “Sharpton said, adding,” People can go to him. The reason I trust him is because he never led me astray. Good or bad, he’s going to tell me the truth about a customer. “
It seems to be everywhere these days. In April, he and George Floyd’s family celebrated the conviction of ex-cop Derek Chauvin. Then he was among the mourners at the funeral of Daunte Wright, who was shot dead in a traffic obstruction in a Minneapolis suburb the week before Chauvin’s verdict – a comparison he finds incredible.
“If there was ever a time for the police to do their best, if there was ever a time for them to exercise the utmost care, if there was ever a time for them to de-escalate, then during this process this is my opinion following one of the most momentous police (and) civil rights cases in our history, ”Crump told The Associated Press.
He was back in Florida after Wright’s funeral to seek a federal investigation into a federal MP who fatally shot and killed two black teenagers. And he began making North Carolina police more transparent last week after MPs fatally shot a black man outside his home.
Critics see him as an opportunist who appears again and again in another tragedy. But those who know Crump say he fought for fairness long before his name hit the headlines.
“He wants to be where there is injustice,” said Ronald Haley, a Louisiana attorney who is part of a broad network of attorneys with whom Crump works in litigation. “He understands that he is needed everywhere, but he also understands that he cannot be everywhere.”
Crump, 51, is a tireless worker who combines southern charm, a knack for getting media attention to his cases, and a firm belief that racism affects the nation and the courts are the place to be that they deal with.
He has a creepy way of making his customers feel like they are related, they say.
“He’s never missed Thanksgiving to visit me, he’s calling for Christmas,” said Allisa Findley, who found crump three days after her brother Botham Jean was fatally shot at his apartment by a white Dallas police officer who was wrong had, for the first time, hit the black’s apartment for himself.
“Even the little things, he takes his time when the cameras aren’t rolling,” she said. “He feels like family. I consider Ben family. “
Terrence Floyd, George Floyd’s 42-year-old brother, said Crump’s attention and care for his family over the past year had drawn them beyond the attorney-client relationship.
“It feels more family than business,” he said. “After a while I don’t have him ‘Mr. Crump ‘to call him’ Unc ‘like he’s one of my uncles.’
Crump keeps a dizzying schedule that takes him everywhere, but he makes sure he is home for Sunday services at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife and their 8-year-old daughter Brooklyn. He also helped raise two cousins and became their legal guardian.
“I look at my daughter,” said Crump, “I look into her eyes and then into the eyes of my nieces and nephews and my little cousins - all those little black and brown children. You see so much hope, so much optimism in their eyes. We have to give them a better world. “
He added, “What I am trying, as much as I can, sometimes alone, is to increase the value of the black life.”
Crump’s path to attorney and attorney began growing up in Lumberton, North Carolina, where he was the oldest of nine siblings and step-siblings.
In his book, Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People, he described how he learned in elementary school that a white classmate’s weekly allowance was the same as his mother’s one week for two shoe factory jobs and one Hotel laundry earned.
“I wanted to understand why the people on the white side of the tracks had it so well and the blacks on our side of the tracks had it so badly,” he wrote.
He often relates how he learned about the world from reading his grandmother’s newspaper and how his mother taught him the story of the famous civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall who became his hero.
“He’s always been interested in leadership and the response to injustice,” said Sean Pittman, an attorney who has been his friend for 30 years since they first met at Florida State University. There Crump was president of the Black Student Union and led protests to draw attention to how the school recruited and treated black students.
His rise from personal injury attorney to a voice of Black America began in 2013 when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin, a teenager killed by a Florida neighborhood guard volunteer. He then took on the case for the family of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a white officer near St. Louis.
Crump organized marches and made the media aware of both deaths – each during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
He has won financial settlements in around 200 police brutality cases. In March, the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $ 27 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought by George Floyd’s family. Crump said this was the largest civil rights litigation pre-trial settlement ever.
“I hope and believe again and again that if we can get them to pay millions of dollars every time they shoot a black person in the back, fewer black people will be shot in the back,” Crump said. “That’s my theory, but it remains unanswered because they keep killing us.”
In the past few years he has produced and hosted an A&E documentary “Who Killed Tupac?” and started a production company to do shows about injustice and civil rights.
Crump even had a brief role in the 2017 movie Marshall, which tells of the early life of his hero who became the first US Supreme Court Justice.
His higher profile has brought more control and made him a frequent target. Conservative writer Candace Owens accused Crump in April of profiting from police shootings and encouraging violent protests.
“Keeping racial problems alive has become a business in America,” she told Fox News Channel’s Laura Ingraham. “It’s Al Sharpton yesterday, Jesse Jackson tomorrow, Ben Crump today.”
It doesn’t really bother Crump: “You don’t care what the enemies of equality think of you,” he said. “It would be the height of arrogance to believe that everyone will love you. It’s not a popularity contest. “
It is fitting that he is now mentioned among the civil rights giants, said John Bowman, who has known him since Michael Brown’s assassination and is now president of the St. Louis County NAACP.
“I can’t get into his head and say he set that course and said, ‘I’ll be the next strongest voice on injustice,” Bowman said. “I know that when the call was made he didn’t flinch or resigned. “
But Crump says he’d like to resign at some point.
“I’m literally praying for the day I can close my law firm’s police brutality department,” he said, “because I’m so tired of seeing black people unjustifiably killed by the police.” I want to tell my staff that we no longer have to fight in court or be advisors to so many grieving mothers and fathers. “
Morrison reported from New York City. Seewer reported from Toledo, Ohio.
Morrison is a member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison. You can also follow Seewer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jseewerap.
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