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For the past couple of years, I’ve had this nagging little thought that Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump might be an “actorvist”. An actorvist is someone who pain pimps victimized families for financial gain or is only radical when cameras are rolling.
Actorvists have risen to popularity in the era of the Black Lives Matter Movement and are a pain in the ass for those of us doing true and selfless liberation work.
I sideyed Crump as a potential actorvist because it appeared that he was conveniently always on the scene of national, high profile cases. Since rising to notoriety for representing Trayvon Martin’s family in the teen’s murder in 2012, we’ve seen Crump involved in other notable cases such as Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and the one that really shook the world, George Floyd.
But those thoughts and questioning were subdued with an opportunity to view the brother’s new documentary, Civil. ***Warning: Spoiler ahead.
A breakdown into the life of Ben Crump
Civil’s foundation is laid in the George Floyd murder with the opening scene being of Ben Crump taking a call from one of Floyd’s relatives who expressed concern that he was killed by police. From there we learn the civil rights attorney’s story.
In the film, Hallgren masterfully interweaves pieces of Crump’s personal life and journey into his current day-to-day professional life. She also captures the humanity and struggles of a man who’s been like a superhero to so many others.
Benjamin Lloyd Crump was born in Lumberton, North Carolina in 1969. He’s the oldest of nine siblings and lived in a household headed by his mother and grandmother but also surrounded by a host of other family members.
In the documentary, Crump said he witnessed some of his cousins and siblings entering the criminal justice system at an early age. At one point his grandmother told him that she wanted him to grow up to “be legitimate”, and that was one of his motivations for traveling a different road.
Black America’s Attorney General
Benjamin was sent to Florida where he attended South Plantation High School and eventually attended and graduated from Florida State University where he became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated. Crump went on to obtain his juris doctorate degree at FSU and also met his wife of 20-plus years.
Now named “Black America’s attorney general”, the freedom fighter recounted difficult days after law school. He said he and his current business partner started out as “rent lawyers” because they took on any jobs that would help pay the rent. But, they were committed to doing work that helped Black people.
Crump also recalled meeting and being inspired by the late, great Honorable Thurgood Marshall who told him that Black lawyers should go into the courtroom and always argue for what’s right. So early in his career, he took on a number of cases in which Black people had been brutalized by police and won settlements in his crusade to make it financially unsustainable for police to continue to harm and kill Black people.
“Civil” documentary highlights Ben Crump’s motivations
The film also chronicled Crump’s representation of clients experiencing environmental racism, workplace discrimination and banking while Black. Lastly, the film included scenes of Crump attending various rallies, speaking at churches and visiting with the families of victims.
So, the directors did well in highlighting his track record of pursuing justice in over 200 cases that didn’t make the news before and after Trayvon Martin’s murder because it shows that Ben’s been in it for the right reasons–his people.
As mentioned above, many people view Ben Crump as a superhero. We view him as Black America’s attorney general even though he’s a human just like the rest of us, called to a purpose. We got to see him interact lovingly with his grandmother, wife and daughter, do community service and chop it up with people from his old neighborhood in North Carolina. We saw him shopping in Burlington Coat Factory for shoes and Que-hopping with his fraternity brothers.
We also got to witness the difficulties of being a freedom fighter. Ben talked about the long hours and constant travel that keeps him separated from his family, the death threats because he’s doing the work, and the mental, physical and emotional fatigue that often make balance and peace seemingly impossible.
And finally, with his office receiving over 500 calls a day, we got to see the struggle to say “no” because people need representation and, in his words, “If you don’t seize the moment when a movement is happening, you can lose that movement.:”
At the end of the documentary Ben Crump said, “I have been given influence for a reason and shame on me if I don’t use that influence”.
That resonated with me as an activist and in watching that film, I gained a new respect and admiration for the brother. Thank you for all that you’ve done and will continue to do in the name of justice and liberation.
Civil airs on Netflix beginning June 19th, 2022.