Whenever and wherever an unarmed Black person has been shot by police, attorney Ben Crump has often been quick to the scene to represent the victim or the family, and decry racism in high-profile press conferences.
He‘s been seen everywhere from Florida to Minnesota to California — most recently in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Patrick Lyoya, 26, was shot and killed by a police officer after a traffic stop on April 4.
Mr. Lyoya was shot in the back of the head as he lay face-down on a lawn following a brief struggle with the officer, according to videos of the encounter and an autopsy by a forensic pathologist.
“This is evidence of this tragic killing, which his family believes was an execution,” Mr. Crump said Tuesday at a press conference, as reported by The Detroit News.
Media outlets and pundits have referred to Mr. Crump as “Black America’s attorney general” and “the Black Gloria Allred,” a comparison to the high-profile women’s rights attorney, and last year he was included in Time magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
In a YouTube video posted by his law firm, Mr. Crump cites Thurgood Marshall as an inspiration, saying the late Supreme Court justice stood up for causes that people were afraid to stand up for at the time.
“Thurgood Marshall is my personal hero. Everything I am doing is because I’m trying to follow in his footsteps,” he says in the video. “Thurgood Marshall was courageous.”
Mr. Crump did not respond to a request for an interview for this report.
The 52-year-old civil rights attorney has spent more than two decades representing Black families who have lost loved ones at the hands of law enforcement.
Mr. Crump has declared that his mission is to hold officials accountable for the injustices in hopes that the killings stop happening. One way to do that is financially.
He secured a $27 million settlement for the family of George Floyd, who was killed by a White police officer in Minneapolis in 2020. It was the largest pretrial settlement for a civil rights case in history, Mr. Crump said.
“I keep hoping and believing, if we can make them pay multimillions of dollars every time they shoot a Black person in the back, that there will be less Black people shot in the back,” he said. “That’s my theory, but it remains unanswered because they keep killing us.”
He‘s currently helping represent the family of Lyoya. Another lawyer appearing alongside Mr. Crump at a recent press conference suggested a lawsuit is in the works.
Mr. Crump represented the family of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was killed during an altercation with George Zimmerman in 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Mr. Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense when he was patrolling his neighborhood to deter crime. A jury acquitted him of a second-degree murder charge in 2013.
Mr. Crump represented Martin’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit against Homeowners Association of the Florida Subdivisions and won a settlement for an undisclosed amount.
In 2014, he represented the family of Michael Brown, 18, who died during an altercation with police in Ferguson, Missouri. According to reports, he won the Brown family a $1.5 million settlement against the city.
That same year, Mr. Crump represented the family of Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by police in Cleveland while the 12-year-old was holding a toy gun.
Since then he’s taken on a number of families’ legal fights and has also advocated for labor rights and voting rights.
Charles “Cully” Stimson, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Crump is able to practice law in a number of states with the assistance of local counsel, who sign onto the legal filings in a procedure known as “pro hac vice.”
“You always have to partner with somebody who is a member of the state where the incident took place,” Mr. Stimson explained.
He added that Mr. Crump has a very niche legal practice and follows in a line of civil rights lawyers like Marshall.
Mr. Stimson differentiated Mr. Crump from other civil rights lawyers like the late Johnnie Cochran, saying Cochran accused police of bias in defense of O.J. Simpson but Mr. Crump is more critical of the criminal justice system as a whole.
“Ben Crump is the new Ben Crump. He is doing it his way,” Mr. Stimson said, noting that Cochran wasn’t as opinionated and didn’t “cast aspersions against the criminal justice system.”
“I don’t remember Johnnie Cochran making speeches and saying things like that,” he said.
Mr. Crump‘s law practice is based in Florida, with offices in California and Washington, D.C. He graduated from Florida State University law school in 1995.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.