Benjamin Crump: He’s filed civil suits on behalf of Black victims, collecting millions for grieving families. But he cannot replace those who died

By: - April 14, 2021 5:18 pm

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks to the press outside of the Hennepin County Government Center before the start of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on March 29, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Attorney Benjamin Crump was standing in a snow storm Tuesday, watching the mother of yet another young Black son weep as she described the night her son called her from his car to tell her he’d just been stopped by police.

The scene was in the middle of Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, just 10 miles from where a former Minnesota sheriff’s deputy is on trial for killing George Floyd with a knee on his neck about a year ago.

A veteran police officer shot and killed Duante Wright, 20. The veteran officer, Kimberly Potter, said she meant to shot Wright with her Taser, but fired her gun by mistake while stopping him on an outstanding misdemeanor warrant.  Potter and the police chief resigned Tuesday about the time Wright’s family retained Crump as their lawyer.

Crump, a Tallahassee lawyer, more than virtually anyone else, has assumed the duty of helping the families of Black people who have been killed by various police agencies.

George Floyd, in the hour he died. Screenshot: bystander video broadcast by CNN

For the past few weeks he has been sitting in a Minnesota courtroom listening to the gruesome descriptions and watching videos of George Floyd dying on a Minneapolis street on May 25, 2020. He represents Floyd’s family in a civil suit he filed against the local sheriff’s department.

It is not the first time he has stepped forward to seek justice. He’s being called “Black America’s attorney general because we don’t feel we have one”, Crump said last year after Floyd died.”  Since then, a new Attorney General, Merrick Garland, has taken office under a new president, but Black men are still dying at the hands of police.

Last year as Crump attended Floyd’s funeral in Texas, he predicted, in the middle of a pandemic that was killing thousands of Americans, that it would take “a whole team of lawyers to get justice for George Floyd.’’

“It was not COVID that killed George Floyd, it was a pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd,’’ Crump told mourners at the funeral.

By the time Floyd was buried in June 2020, his death had sparked a fire of protest across the nation in almost every state.

Crump has filed civil suits on behalf of a handful of Black victims, collecting millions of dollars for grieving families. But he cannot replace those who died.

Minneapolis has already agreed to pay George Floyd’s family $27-million. His family has pledged $500,000 of the money to “lift up’’ a neighborhood around the corner where police confronted Floyd. Protests after his death led to the burning of a police station and several businesses in the area.

Crump remembers a time when Black lawyers were mostly working for civil rights, not civil settlements.

His clients have included Trayvon Martin, a young man killed in Central Florida by a wanna be security guard; Breonna Taylor, a young woman shot 14 times as Louisville, KY police fired 32 shots into her apartment while serving a “no knock’’ warrant. The city paid her family $12-million to settle a civil suit filed by Crump.

This week skilled prosecutors and expert witnesses have taken the witness stand and even Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arrandondo described Floyd’s death as the result of a law enforcement officer who applied a level of force that was against his department’s ethics and values.

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s booking photo. Photo courtesy of Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, and the Minnesota Reformer news organization.

The officer on trial, Derek Chauvin, used way too much force while trying to investigate a complaint that Floyd might have used a counterfeit twenty dollar bill to make a purchase.

Twenty Dollars!

Over and over again prosecutors played the 9 minute video of Floyd on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back as Chauvin kept a knee on his neck and watched him die.  For two more minutes after they couldn’t find a pulse, Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, ignoring the pleas of bystanders who urged him to let go.

Even journalists watching the trial were wiping away tears.

Despite all the evidence, it didn’t stop yet another officer from stopping a young Black man as he drove his car Sunday just 10 miles away from the courtroom where the gruesome scene was being repeated over and over.

Veteran police officer Potter was charged Wednesday with manslaughter for shooting 20-year old Wright. His family quickly became yet another client of Crump’s.

A day after the shooting Crump stood beside Wright’s mother to denounce the shooting. He was nearby representing the George Floyd family in a civil trial stemming from last year’s shooting in Minneapolis.

Meanwhile the area has erupted with crowds in the street protesting yet another police shooting.

Potter claims she intended to fire a Taser gun at Wright, but mistakenly pulled her service revolver and shot him with a bullet. Her description immediately raised questions since the two weapons are generally carried on opposite sides of an officer’s belt and the Tasers all have bright yellow handles.

Facebook friends more than made the point this week when one posted a note saying she had never been asked to get out of her car when stopped by police.  Dozens of us responded “me too,’’ including some who admitted to being stopped numerous times.

I have to admit that I have been stopped for speeding a few times over the 55 years I have been driving a car and no one ever asked me to get out of the car either.  I collected a few tickets, and one state trooper even told me he liked the stories I was writing about drug smuggling in Dixie County and said there was no way he was giving me a ticket for going 75 miles an hour in a 65 mile zone.

I fear that many of us with White skin fail to understand that we are getting special treatment even when handed a traffic ticket.

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Lucy Morgan
Lucy Morgan

Pulitzer Prize-winner Lucy Morgan was chief of the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times capital bureau in Tallahassee for 20 years, retiring in 2006 and serving as senior correspondent until 2013. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame and the Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame. The Florida Senate named its press gallery after Morgan, in honor of her two decades covering the Legislature.