When Black people are killed by police, one man has represented their families again and again: Ben Crump.
The high-profile civil rights attorney has taken on more than 200 police violence cases, bringing media attention and winning millions in civil settlements for the families of those killed.
Just in the past year, he’s worked with the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and George Floyd.
Now, attention is shifting back to Minneapolis for jury selection in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murder in Floyd’s death.
Crump says Floyd’s family is anxious. It’s especially difficult because only one family member is allowed in the courtroom due to COVID-19 restrictions, he says.
“It’s very difficult for them, because you want another family member to be able to lean on, to have an emotional support.”
Crump has also filed a civil suit on behalf of Floyd’s family against the city of Minneapolis and the former police officers involved.
Crump talked with All Things Considered about his work representing Black people killed by police. Here are excerpts:
Do you believe that civil settlements and civil suits actually mitigate the problem of police killings?
I think yes and no. In many ways, those settlements and those verdicts where they have to pay, make them rethink that. So they have abolished no-knock warrants now [in Louisville]. In George Floyd’s case, I think they’re going to be held accountable civilly as well as criminally. …
The more these city governments have to take their budget as compensation to these families in these [Section] 1983 wrongful death civil rights cases, the more they’re going to make changes so they don’t have to keep paying out money. Now, that’s the “yes” part.
The “no” part of the answer is this: the fact that George Floyd was supposed to be a tipping point on May 25, 2020, after they killed him. But [in the] six months after George Floyd was killed up until the beginning of this year, in January, there were another 130 Black people killed by police.
The first time I encountered you was in the Panama City, Fla., case of Martin Anderson, who was the young man who was killed after being beaten by deputies at a juvenile boot camp. And he would have turned 30 years old last month.
It’s so tragic. Martin Lee Anderson’s case was Trayvon Martin before Trayvon Martin. But that young boy was kicked, punched, suffocated on that video surveillance. And even though we got the largest amount ever paid out by the state of Florida for an individual wrongful death, not one of those eight guards who kicked him and punched him and put ammonia tablets up his nose were convicted. And in fact, the all-white jury in Panama City only stayed out for an hour and a half and said that, you know, everything was justified, that this 14-year-old child would have nobody held accountable for killing him.
Does it feel like there has been progress since then?
There has been progress. We have to remember it’s just been in the last 30 years where Black people even got civil compensation for the police killing us. I mean, they usually just kill us and nothing, no form of justice. So George Floyd, unlike Breonna Taylor and so many others, has an opportunity to get full justice, to get a civil resolution in the civil courts, but also a chance to get criminal justice because [Chauvin] was indicted and charged.
At this point, what would you consider progress, so to speak? I mean, is there an actual benchmark?
It’s quite straightforward. Progress would be justice. And justice is not to be confused with accountability. The only thing George Floyd could get is accountability, Breonna can only get accountability, you know, Ahmaud Arbery can only get accountability. Because the reality is, justice would be them still here with us living.
Jason Fuller and Justine Kenin produced and edited the audio interview. James Doubek produced for the Web.