Ben Crump, the Tallahassee, Fla.-based civil rights attorney who is representing several Little Rock residents who say they were victims of an unethical, dangerous “no-knock” warrant policy by the Little Rock Police Department, is the subject of a long profile in New York magazine.
Crump has become famous in recent years for representing the families of black men and women, many of whom were killed by the police: Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Alesia Thomas and Terence Crutcher. He’s spun that into a burgeoning media empire:
In the years that followed, Crump became a perpetual-motion media machine, investigating the death of Tupac Shakur in a five-part A&E documentary, hosting a documentary series about wrongful convictions for TV One, and even acting — he made a cameo appearance as the young lawyer who joins forces with Thurgood Marshall in the last scene of Marshall. Last fall, he started his own production company, which is now making two documentary series for Netflix. “I don’t think there’s anyone else like him,” says Kenneth Mack, a professor of law at Harvard. “It’s actually hard to keep track of all the things he’s done.”
This strategy of showmanship and vilification worries even some who are sympathetic to the cause. “We black people make race the central theme in a discussion of crime, policing, and punishment in this country at our peril,” Glenn Loury, a professor of social sciences at Brown University, wrote in 2015. “My fear is that a discourse which readily cites the race of a citizen and the race of a cop as the touchstone of moral outrage — ‘Yet another unarmed black teenager is accosted by yet another white cop!’ — invites a counter-discourse in which the race of the perpetrators and victims of everyday street crimes comes to be accepted as a legitimate topic of public argument.” This is exactly what happened when “White Lives Matter” became a slogan on the right. It can backfire in other ways, too — the state prosecutors who brought charges against Trayvon Martin’s killer failed to get a conviction, and it’s possible that the publicity Crump stirred up was partly to blame, pushing them to overreach with a second-degree-murder charge. “Would I approve of every use of the media he’s engaged in?” Mack says. “No. But as long as there have been civil-rights lawyers, all the way back to Thurgood Marshall, they’ve tried to publicize their cases and garner support. It’s simply part of the job.”
Crump frames his response in legal terms: “We get the opportunity to at least put America on notice, and notice is two-thirds of the law. When you see that policeman shooting bullet after bullet into Laquan McDonald, or Philando Castile’s girlfriend crying in the next seat while he bleeds to death, or Mike Brown lying there in the street for four hours with all those black people cursing and fussing behind the police tape, you see what black people have known forever.”