Lawyer and civil rights activist Benjamin Crump has become a household name over the years from his involvement in many high-profile police brutality cases. Since George Floyd’s tragic murder last year, Crump has been at the forefront of the Floyd family’s legal team.
In the past, the civil attorney represented the families of Michael Brown Jr., Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Ahmaud Arbery, and, as of last week, Daunte Wright.
Yet following the guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Crump is beginning to draw more and more criticism from the Black community and civil rights leaders alike.
So why is he receiving so much flack?
Crump appears at the side of a victim’s family almost instantaneously after an incident of police brutality goes viral, and many have started to notice. Search “Ben Crump ambulance chaser” on Twitter, and you’ll see thousands of users calling him an “opportunist” or disparaging him as having a “losing track record.”
However, as Tyler Foggatt pointed out in The New Yorker last summer, some of Crump’s critics simply don’t fully understand the attorney’s role in these cases. In police killing, murder and manslaughter cases, local prosecutors are brought on to handle the trial, not attorneys hired by the family. In the Chauvin trial, the prosecution was led by Minnesota’s attorney general Keith Ellison.
Crump’s job isn’t to pursue criminal cases, but to pursue civil action lawsuits. If there’s no payout, his legal services are free of charge, but in cases he’s won, he goes home with a third of the entire settlement.
After Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson in 2014, Crump helped his family win a $1.5 million settlement from the city. When Breonna Taylor was killed in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, Crump and his team secured a historic $12 million settlement for her family, one of the largest payouts for a Black woman killed by police in the U.S.
In the case of George Floyd, Crump and his team won the Floyd family a $27 million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit from the city of Minneapolis. For Crump, that’s a take-home of $9 million. In the 200+ cases he’s handled, Crump has had a cash payout in every single one of them.
But you can’t reimburse a family for the loved ones they have lost. Cash settlements do not equal holding officers accountable for the people they’ve killed.
As Foggatt wrote, “Crump could be the winningest attorney in the country who still reeks of failure.”
Despite the fact that Crump is not involved in the criminal case, his growing spotlight gives him the power to make or break a case. Amid seas of protestors around the nation demanding justice, prosecutors can be pressured to overcharge in cases where jurors are already likely to sympathize with police.
Crump has been known to garner public attention for his cases. And it doesn’t seem like he plans on dispelling that narrative anytime soon.
Viewing Black death over and over again can trigger PTSD-like trauma in Black individuals. So is it worth it to force videos of Black people being brutalized by police onto a community that has been experiencing that brutalization for hundreds of years?
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Crump gave his thoughts on whether Black death has become a spectacle for the media.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s necessary that we continue to see the horrific acts that they do to us,” Crump said. “America always has to be reminded over and over again of the two justice systems that exist.”