90.7 WMFE and 89.5 WMFV are Central Florida's primary provider of NPR programming and Classical Music. Part of the community since 1965, providing quality national and local news and programming. We inspire and empower all Central Floridians to discover, grow and engage within and beyond their world.
Support for 90.7 WMFE is provided by

Benjamin Crump on the state of civil rights & the measure of progress, 10 years after Trayvon Martin


Play Audio
WMFE's Nicole Darden Creston speaks with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.

WMFE's Nicole Darden Creston speaks with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. Crump rose to prominence when he served as counsel for Trayvon Martin's parents


Social Justice Story Series

This story is part of the Social Justice Story Series. See more stories from the series.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump rose to prominence back in 2012. He was contracted to represent the parents of Trayvon Martin after the 17-year-old was fatally shot walking back to his dad’s house.

Crump was instrumental in galvanizing a movement to get George Zimmerman, the man who shot Martin, arrested and charged. Since then, Crump has been on what he calls “a mission” to stand up in court for mostly Black victims of unjust deadly violence.

As part of our series marking ten years since Trayvon Martin’s death, WMFE’s Nicole Darden Creston spoke with Crump about where that mission has taken him and the changes he’s seen in American society in the past decade.

***

Nicole Darden Creston:
Benjamin Crump, thank you so much for speaking with us today. I’d like to ask you, what has changed for you personally, in your experiences since Trayvon Martin’s death?

Benjamin Crump:
I became a lot busier, fighting for unarmed, marginalized people of color, especially black men being killed unjustly, unnecessarily, unconstitutionally all across the United States of America. And I still carry the legacy of Trayvon Martin with me every day, as I fight in courtrooms all over America.

Nicole Darden Creston:
What changes, if any, have you observed in the 10 years since Trayvon Martin was killed, big picture?

Benjamin Crump:
When you think about this time, everybody’s saying, “Trayvon Martin ten years later, how far have we come in our quest for equal justice under the law in the United States of America? How far have we come in our quest to achieve racial justice in the United States of America?” And I think we’ve made significant progress, but we have a long way to go. And I think Trayvon Martin’s legacy is that progress. Because I think when we see a conviction of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, and then he is convicted – I think that’s part of Trayvon Martin’s legacy, because he raised the consciousness level in America, back in 2012. And then I think about the conviction of Officer Kim Potter for shooting and killing Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota when she claimed she was reaching for a taser. But she shot her gun and killed him and a jury convicted her. And I think that’s part of Trayvon Martin’s legacy. And I think about what happened with that tragic lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, for jogging while black…not in 1940, not in 1950, but in 2020. In our day. And that case is very similar to Trayvon Martin’s case. And we saw a jury of eleven white people and one black person convicted that lynch mob: guilty with life in prison, no chance of parole. And I think without Trayvon Martin, I’m not sure we would have achieved any of these historic victories. And the fact that I was an attorney in all three of those cases – every day that we worked on those cases, I thought about Trayvon Martin.

Nicole Darden Creston:
What sparked you to become involved with Trayvon Martin’s case?

Benjamin Crump:
His cousin Patricia Jones, who’s an attorney, and attorney Tyrone Jones, called me relentlessly, trying to get me on the phone with Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, within days after he had been shot and killed by the neighborhood watch volunteer, who when the police came, had the proverbial smoking gun. And you had this unarmed young black teenager lying dead on the ground, but yet, his killer, went home and slept in his bed that night.

Nicole Darden Creston:
You know, I’ve spoken to a number of people that I spoke to 10 years ago as I was working on covering Trayvon Martin’s shooting, and a couple of them independently have mentioned the fact that video and cell phones have made a huge difference between then and now. What do you think about that? And do you think that if there had been video of in Trayvon Martin’s case, things would have come out differently?

Benjamin Crump:
Yes, I think video is a game changer. And I think if we had a video in Trayvon Martin’s case where people could see and not just hear what happened, that the criminal trial would have turned out much differ ently.

Nicole Darden Creston:
Our political landscape has changed a lot since Trayvon Martin’s death. At the time, we had a president who said, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.” And then we had Trump. How has their differing approaches to civil rights issues impacted your work?

Benjamin Crump:
Well, obviously, I believe we took some steps back under the last administration, as it relates to civil rights under the Federal Department of Justice. But I think in many ways, it made us understand we had to fight even harder for the Trayvon Martins in the world, and more importantly, for the unknown Trayvon Martins in the world. As the great Negro orator, Frederick Douglass once said, “Without struggle, there can be no progress.” So I understand, as long as we’re struggling, as long as we’re fighting for all of our children to have an equal chance at life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – as long as we’re struggling and fighting, then we’re making progress.

Nicole Darden Creston:
Is that how you judge progress when it comes to civil rights?

Benjamin Crump:
I think I judge it by the objective factors like holding accountability, the fact that I have been on a personal crusade since Trayvon Martin to raise the value of black life in the civil arenas, which is the thing that I can control as a private lawyer with the use of the Seventh Amendment. I know I can go into civil court and have some measure of accountability, even if we can’t control what the local prosecutors do. And so that’s what I have done. Since Trayvon had died, I have been on this warpath to say that black lives matter, and to be an unapologetic defender of black life, black liberty, and black humanity. And that’s why I believe you see us getting the historic settlement in the George Floyd case for $27 million, which represents the most that has ever been paid out in the police excessive use of force case. And then in Louisville, Kentucky, we got the highest amount ever paid out for a black woman killed as a result of police excessive force, where her case was resolved for $12 million. So I believe that we are making progress. We still have a long way to go. But we’re making progress.

Nicole Darden Creston:
Reverend Al Sharpton calls you the Attorney General of Black America, because of your work, but there are others who use…less flattering descriptors. What would you say to people who call you a “race baiter”?

Benjamin Crump:
Well, I often hear all kinds of criticisms. And I think about my personal hero, my personal heroes, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and Fannie Lou Hamer, they called them much worse. I’m not in this for a popularity contest. Every morning I wake up, I understand what my mission in life is. And that is to be an unapologetic defender for black life, black liberty, and black humanity. And I am not afraid to speak truth to power. And if this was any other group, where they were killing their children unjustly, shame on them if they didn’t stand up too. So I don’t care what anybody has to say, with criticism of what we’re fighting for, we’re fighting for the very lives and the future of our children.

Nicole Darden Creston:
What does it take for a case like this to gain national or international attention the way that Trayvon Martin did? That seemed to be arguably the first case that got social media attention around the world, and what does it take to continue to get that attention?

Benjamin Crump:
A whole lot of strategic thinking, a lot of intellect. A lot of late nights a lot of phone calls. A team effort. You know, I have a great team of people who work with me on all of these cases. And so it takes them, and these families having the convictions to go, grieve in public, even though their hearts have broken. So it takes a lot. It takes me making sure I can engage the media effectively to make them care about this black life when black people killed unjustly and in unbelievable ways every day. How do I make them care about the Trayvon Martins? How do I make them care about Brianna Taylor in her own apartment, and being mutilated with nine bullets while she was practically naked in her night gown. That is the thing that I work on constantly to try to make America care about our children to just like they care about their children, even if it doesn’t seem they were ever looking at children like they look at their children, I continue to hold the mirror to their face.

Nicole Darden Creston:
What has surprised you the most in your experiences since Trayvon Martin’s shooting?

Benjamin Crump:
The fact that you continue to see the crowds be come more multicultural. I remember, at George Floyd [protests], seeing just as many young white people out there marching, saying, “Until we get justice for George Floyd, none of us can breathe.” And so I see the crowds become more diverse, ethnically, gender-wise, age, as well as geographically. We see a wide array of people coming together to say, ” We’re better than this, America. This is not what we call living up to the Declaration of Independence. When we say we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equally, that they’re endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, now amongst them are life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Well, America, that means black people, too. That means white people, too. That means brown people, too. That means red people, too. That means Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, LGBTQ…. It means all of us, America, if we’re going to make this Declaration of Independence not just rhetoric that we recite, but something that is real. So the thing that surprises me is when we have people coming together from all walks of life, to say that “the Declaration of Independence is not just going to be rhetorical for me, is going to be something real, that I seek out every day of my life.” And that’s what surprises me.

 

 


Get The 90.7 WMFE Newsletter

Your trusted news source for the latest Central Florida news, updates on special programs and more.

GET THE LATEST
Stay tuned in to our local news coverage: Listen to 90.7 WMFE on your FM or HD radio, the WMFE mobile app or your smart speaker — say “Alexa, play NPR” and you’ll be connected.

WMFE Journalistic Ethics Code | Public Media Code of Integrity

Nicole Darden Creston

About Nicole Darden Creston

All Things Considered Host and Reporter

Nicole came to Central Florida to attend Rollins College and started working for Orlando’s ABC News Radio affiliate shortly after graduation. She joined WMFE in 2010. As a field reporter, news anchor and radio show host in the City Beautiful, she has covered everything from local arts to national elections, from ... Read Full Bio »

TOP