Ben Crump, says Rev. Al Sharpton, is “the attorney general of black America.”
In less than a decade, the Florida-based lawyer has become the voice of the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd – blacks whose deaths at the hands of police and vigilantes sparked a movement.
He has won multi-million dollar settlements in police brutality cases. He pushed cities to ban warrants without knocking. He told a congressional committee that reform was needed because “it has become painfully obvious that we have two systems of justice; one for white Americans and one for black Americans. “
And he’s standing alongside black farmers preying on an agribusiness giant and families exposed to lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.
“He really believes in what he’s doing. He took the attacks. He took the cases that others wouldn’t take, ”Sharpton said, adding,“ People can come to him. The reason I trust him is that he has never misled me. Good or bad, he’ll tell me the truth about a client.
These days it seems to be everywhere. In April, he joined the family of George Floyd in celebrating the sentencing of ex-cop Derek Chauvin. Then he was among those mourned at the funeral of Daunte Wright, who was shot dead during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis in the week before Chauvin’s verdict – a juxtaposition he finds incredible.
“If there was a time for the police to behave their best, if there was ever a time for them to exercise the highest standard of care, if there was a time for them to act. de-escalation, that was during this trial. , which I believe has been one of (and) the most important police cases in our history, ”Crump told The Associated Press.
After Wright’s funeral, he was back in Florida to call for a federal investigation into a member of Parliament who shot and killed two black teenagers. And he began last week demanding that North Carolina police be more transparent after lawmakers shot and killed a black man outside his home.
Critics see him as an opportunist who never fails to show up in the midst of yet another tragedy. But those who know Crump say he was fighting for fairness long before his name hit the headlines.
“Where there’s injustice, that’s where he wants to be,” said Ronald Haley, a Louisiana attorney who is part of a large network of attorneys Crump works with on lawsuits. . “He understands that he is needed everywhere, but he also understands that he cannot be everywhere.
Crump, 51, is a tireless worker who mixes southern charm, a knack for drawing media attention to his cases and a firm belief that racism plagues the nation and that the courts are the place to be. take.
He has a weird way of making his clients feel like parents, they say.
“He never missed a Thanksgiving to check me in, he calls on Christmas,” said Allisa Findley, who first met Crump three days after her brother, Botham Jean, was fatally shot in his apartment by a white Dallas cop who made a mistake. the black man’s apartment for his own.
“Even the little things, it takes a while for that, when there are no cameras running,” she said. “He feels like family. I consider the Ben family.
Terrence Floyd, the 42-year-old brother of George Floyd, said Crump’s care and care for his family over the past year has linked them beyond the attorney-client relationship.
“It feels like it’s more family-friendly than professional,” he said. “After a while, I went from calling him ‘Mr. Crump’ to calling him ‘Unc’, like he was one of my uncles.
Crump maintains a dizzying schedule that takes him everywhere, but he makes sure he’s 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,” Crump says, “I look her in the eyes, then I look in the eyes of my nieces and nephews, and my little cousins - all those little black and brown kids. You see so much hope, so much optimism in their eyes. We have to give them a better world.
He added: “What I try to do, as much as I can, even sometimes alone, is to increase the value of black lives.”
Crump’s path to becoming a lawyer and attorney began growing up in Lumberton, North Carolina, where he was the oldest of nine siblings and half-siblings.
In his book “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People,” he described learning in elementary school that a white classmate’s weekly allowance was as much as his mother made in one week working two days. jobs in a shoe factory and hotel laundry.
“I wanted to understand why the people on the white side of the slopes had it so well and the blacks on our side of the slopes had it so bad,” he wrote.
He often recounts how he discovered the world by reading the newspaper to his grandmother and how his mother taught him the story of famous civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall, who became his hero.
“He’s always been about leadership and being the answer to injustice,” said Sean Pittman, a lawyer who has been his friend for 30 years, since they met at Florida State University. There, Crump was president of the Black Students Union and led protests to call attention to how the school recruited and treated black students.
But his rise as a personal injury lawyer to a voice of black America began in 2013 when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin, a teenager killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. He then took the case for the family of Michael Brown who was fatally shot by a white officer near St. Louis.
Crump organized marches and brought media attention to their two deaths – each occurring during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
He went on to win financial settlements in around 200 cases of police brutality. In March, the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $ 27 million to settle a civil lawsuit against the family of George Floyd, which Crump says is the largest pre-trial civil rights lawsuit settlement ever.
“I still hope and believe that if we can make them pay millions of dollars every time they shoot a black man in the back, there will be fewer black people injured in the back,” said Crump. “This is my theory, but it remains unanswered as they keep killing us.”
In recent years, he has produced and hosted an A&E documentary “Who Killed Tupac?” and started a production company to do shows on injustice and civil rights.
Crump even had a brief role in the 2017 film “Marshall,” which chronicles the early life of his hero, who became the first black judge of the Supreme Court of the United States.
His higher profile brought closer scrutiny and made him a frequent target. Conservative author Candace Owens in April accused Crump of trying to profit from police fire and encourage violent protests.
“Bringing racial issues to life 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 about you,” he said. “It would be the height of arrogance to think that everyone is going to like you. This is not a popularity contest.”
It’s fitting that he is now mentioned among the civil rights giants, said John Bowman, who has known him since the murder of Michael Brown and is now president of the St. Louis County NAACP.
“I can’t go into his head and say he’s charted this course, and said, ‘I’m going to be the next loudest voice for injustice,’” Bowman said. “I know when the call was made he didn’t hesitate or back down.”
But Crump says he would like to finally take a step back.
“I am literally praying for the day when I can shut down the police brutality division of my law firm,” he said, “because I am so tired of black people being killed by the police without justification. I want to tell my staff that we no longer have to fight in court or be counsel to so many grieving mothers and fathers.
Morrison reported from New York. Seewer reported from Toledo, Ohio.