Washington – When angry protesters shout the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Jacob Blake — Ben Crump is listening. He is the seemingly omnipresent black attorney representing the families of all those emblematic victims of U.S. police violence, and others too.
On Friday, the 57th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, he joined thousands of protesters there for a rally to denounce discriminatory policing and demand fairness in the justice system.
It is a cause Crump has ardently embraced, whether in courtrooms or before television cameras.
Crump has repeatedly found himself in the spotlight following high-profile cases of violence against African Americans: the vigilante killing of jogger Ahmaud Arbery, the death of George Floyd under the knees of three Minneapolis police officers and now the grievous wounding of Jacob Blake by a policeman in Wisconsin who repeatedly shot him in the back.
“Every single case is linked to the ultimate end goal: equal justice in America,” longtime Crump friend Sean Pittman said.
He said that when the lawyer represents a victim’s relatives, “he’s their lawyer, pastor, therapist, advocate, and after a short period of time, he’s extended family.”
The indefatigable 50-year-old attorney is quick to use his standing in the black community and his high social media profile to advance the cause of those he represents.
On Twitter, he was one of the first to post the shocking videos of Floyd’s death and Blake’s shooting — posts that were then massively reshared.
He did so even before leaving his home in Tallahassee, Florida, to fly to Minneapolis or Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he denounced what he has said is a “pandemic of racism and discrimination.”
With his colorful ties, eagle-shaped broach pinned to his tailored suit and Southern accent, Crump can be reminiscent of some of the pastoral leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
In the middle of a news conference on Blake, the openly pious Crump doesn’t hesitate to pause for a moment of collective prayer.
“He brings a sense of pastoral passion combined with legal strength and skills,” RB Holmes Jr., a Baptist pastor in Tallahassee, said.
Holmes said Crump has worshipped at his church on Martin Luther King Boulevard for more than 20 years.
Crump often steps up to the pulpit to offer a spirited description of his cases, Holmes said.
Crump’s life has long been interwoven with the struggle for racial justice.
Born in North Carolina in 1969, he grew up in a city where a railroad track divided the white community, to the north, from black residents, to the south.
The oldest of nine children, he saw his mother work on a tobacco farm while his uncle, he says, suffered a beating at police hands.
During his law studies in Florida, Crump joined Omega Psi Phi, a historic black fraternity whose members have included basketball legend Michael Jordan and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
As a lawyer, he quickly took on cases defending those he said were victims of the “legalized genocide of colored people.” They have included a black driver killed by a white police officer in 2002, a young African American beaten by prison guards in 2006, and others.
He was unable to gain a conviction against the man who shot and killed unarmed adolescent Trayvon Martin in 2013, but the case provoked a paroxysm of anger, giving rise eventually to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Crump represented the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed in 2014 by police as he played with a toy gun.
He was called on that same year after police shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and again after the killing this year of Breonna Taylor, shot eight times when police mistakenly burst into her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, to serve a warrant in a case involving a man who lived elsewhere.
But for each case taken on by the energetic Crump, he has had to reject dozens of others, he says.
His objective is clear, he has told The Washington Post: He selects those cases most likely to “shock the conscience” of the American people.