In Defense of Brother Benjamin

By Free Radical

Benjamin Crump

Benjamin Crump

Just days after the Sacramento police riddled Stephon Clark’s body with bullets, the family of the 29 year old father of two hired the highly decorated attorney Benjamin Crump to represent them. I must admit, a sense of deflation about the Clark family’s decision was heaped onto the anger I felt about yet another unarmed Black man killed by law enforcement.

Benjamin Crump has come to represent many things since he first hit the national scene in 2012 when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin. He has been viewed as a crusading attorney who has provided pro bono legal counsel to families that have had their loved ones taken away by the white supremacist American state. He has become a celebrity seen at news conferences, rallies, and forums representing not only the families of victims but also larger movements for much needed criminal justice reform.

But along with this, he has also come to symbolize defeat (so much that it took a long time for me to realize that he does not represent families in criminal prosecutions of police. His specialty is civil cases that often take place after the criminal trials.) Crump has come to personify a sort of foregone conclusion and a reminder that Black lives do not matter in the American judicial system. A reminder that White people, and especially the police state have a monopoly on justice (or injustice) in this society. So perhaps you can understand my lack of enthusiasm when I saw yet another news conference featuring Benjamin Crump and another grief stricken Black family.

Yet Crump is no chump attorney. According to his bio, he was the first Black president of the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Florida and the first Black chairman of the Florida State University College of Law Board of Directors. He was also selected as president of the preeminent professional association of African-American lawyers, the National Bar Association.

After receiving his juris doctorate from Florida State University, Crump created the Tallahassee based Parks and Crump law firm with his college friend Daryl Parks in 1995. Both partners mainly handled personal injury cases involving commonplace issues such as medical malpractice and wrongful death suits. Though Crump first gained national recognition with the Trayvon Martin case in 2012, his first major civil rights case occurred six years earlier when he represented the family of Martin Lee Anderson, a Black 14 year old who was killed by guards at a Florida boot camp. The guards, Black and White, were acquitted of manslaughter yet Crump was able to secure Anderson’s family a $7 million settlement.

Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the Anderson proceedings outlined a trajectory that would be repeated by Crump and other cases involving the deaths of African-Americans by law enforcement. The state, even when given clear cut evidence, refused to convict the murderers of Black men and women, yet conceded financial settlements funded by taxpayers.

Yet it was the Trayvon Martin case and Crump’s ability to attract media that propelled him to national prominence. Crump would go on to represent the families of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, the many Black women assaulted by Daniel Holtzclaw, the Oklahoma cop who sexually abused victims in his custody.

Crump has parlayed his platform to further expand his celebrity. He hosted the “Evidence of Innocence” show on TV One and executive produced the A&E Network series “Who Killed Tupac?” Crump also made the questionable decision to be featured as one of the star attorneys on the short lived Fox reality series, “You the Jury.” Interesting that he would work for the same conservative network that constantly criticized him and criminalized the families he represented.

Crump has made other moves to aggrandize his brand such as his decision last year to separate from his longtime partner Daryl Parks and create his own law firm. Setting out on his own is innocuous in of itself and could be expected given his profile. Yet Benjamin did so by partnering with the national law firm Morgan and Morgan. Yes, that Morgan and Morgan with the many annoying commercials usually sandwiched between soap operas, reality television episodes, and other lackluster shows. Though the firm’s website is listed as forthepeople.com, it is much more known for personal injury practice rather than advocating a civil rights revolution.

Given some of his moves, it would be easy to write off Crump as an attorney more interested in his own celebrity than seeking justice for his victims, let alone becoming a national crusader against the American police state. But given that we are dealing with law, I do not have a preponderance of evidence to firmly make that claim. I do know that he had semblances of consciousness prior to taking on the Trayvon Martin case in 2012. He was president of the Black Student Union while at Florida State. He also served as General Counsel for the Tallahassee NAACP from 2003-2010 and general counsel for the Florida NAACP from 2010-2014.

Yet even if we could uncover dirt that Crump is in fact a racial charlatan, that would not be the greatest tragedy. The lion’s share of recrimination is reserved for the American state. As I give long sighs when I see the attorney, I am still reminded that, at least at this present time, there is no amount of legal skill or unequivocal commitment to antiracist struggle that would have resulted in guilty verdicts for George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, or the less well known murderers of Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, etc. Blame rests squarely at the feet of this criminal justice system that has shown its commitment to the martial wing of the racialized American state long before Benjamin Crump was even born. Crump has been able to use his legal skill and experience to publicize gross miscarriages of justice and even secure hefty settlements for the families in some cases. Yet publicity and large paydays did not prevent the killing of Stephon Clark. They are not designed to.

Between moments of anger and resignation, I sometimes imagine what Crump and a host of other sharp Black legal minds could be. Rather than achieving small victories, perhaps they could be a second coming of Charles Hamilton Houston, Constance Baker Motley, and the revered Thurgood Marshall. Perhaps brother Crump could be a Supreme Court Justice and overturn centuries of racist legal precedent in the United States. Or better yet, ,move beyond the limited notions of law in the United States and imagine alternative forms of justice without mass incarceration, a two-tiered legal system for the rich and poor, and an abiding commitment to the racialized, gendered, and heteronormative status quo.

So go ahead brother Crump. I will be supporting you and the Clark family as they seek a semblance of justice that has eluded our people. And no matter where the scales of justice fall, we are clear that you are not to blame. Even before you were born, they were stacked against you.

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