With all the national attention being paid to the case of Trayvon Martin, many are now becoming familiar with Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the parents of the 17-year-old Florida student who was killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
But in Florida, Crump is far more familiar as a figure in civil rights cases, having been involved in a number of high-profile cases. And he has developed a reputation as one of the leading civil rights lawyers in his state.
One of the most notable cases came with his representation of the parents of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old boy who died the day after he was restrained, beaten and suffocated at a juvenile boot camp in Panama City, Florida. The camp’s security cameras captured the incident on videotape, and the case was featured on NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s 20/20 and CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.
His list of high-profile cases also includes that of Genie McMeans, a 21-year-old Black motorist who was shot in the back in broad daylight by a Florida Highway Patrol officer, one week after he graduated from college.
Despite the number of civil rights cases with which he's been involved, the Martin case has catapulted him to a place of national prominence. Indeed, Crump, who is 42, says he has no experience that would compare with his current job of representing Trayvon Martin’s family and the worldwide attention it has received.
“This has been an incredible experience for me,” Crump said in an interview with BET.com. “This is a case that has received overwhelming national attention, actually international attention. Also, it’s humbling when the president of the United States weighs in on a case you’re working on.”
Crump was raised in Lumberton, North Carolina, a small town just south of Fayetteville. He went to Florida State University, where he served as president of the Black Student Union. He earned his law degree from Florida State, where he was also president of the Black Law Students Association.
An outgoing man with a hearty laugh and an engaging conversation, Crump is an active member of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, serving on the church’s board of trustees.
He established a law firm in Tallahassee with his friend and law school mate Daryl Parks, focusing on personal injury, wrongful death and civil rights cases.
He was referred by two lawyer friends to the case of Trayvon Martin. The lawyers said that the parents were in dire need of representation and that with Crump’s record in civil rights cases he would be particularly useful.
“I told them that I would consider it once Zimmerman was arrested,” Crump said. “I just knew the police would arrest him based on what we knew about the case. But by the end of that week, he wasn’t arrested. It became clear that this was an outrage and the family needed legal representation.”
He added, “I spoke with Trayvon’s father and I heard the sadness in his voice. I knew I had to get involved.”
Since then, Crump’s life has mirrored that of Trayvon Martin’s parents. It’s been a virtual nonstop whirl of press interviews from New York to Los Angeles (newscasters in London have invited them to come to England for interviews). Sometimes the hours have been grueling, and that doesn’t include the legal work associated with the case.
“I haven’t been in my office for 44 days,” Crump said. “There has been a lot of travel, a lot of media interviews with this case. It’s been very demanding for me and the family. But I don’t think there is a more important case in the world as this one.”
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(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)