FSU’s Club Downunder held a Golden Torch Lecture Series last Tuesday with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Week. Crump spoke on the inequities within the United States criminal justice system and his ongoing battle to fight racial injustice.
Crump, a graduate of Florida State, has represented the families of many high-profile civil rights cases in the country, including those of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Martin Lee Anderson, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Dubbed “Black America’s Attorney General” for his hard work fighting racial inequality, Crump’s appearance on campus was a unique opportunity for students and faculty to continue the conversation of justice for Black America.
The event commenced with a few words from Provost Jim Clark about King and his resolute attitude toward racial equality and was followed by a moment of silence to honor King’s life and legacy. FSU’s Rachel Anderson belted out a soulful rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” before the FSU Gospel Choir performed the “Black National Anthem.”
After being met with a round of applause, Crump walked out on stage donning snakeskin loafers with law-themed dress socks depicting gavels and the scales of justice. He soon took a seat next to his interviewer, FSU’s sociology and African American studies professor, Dr. Shantel Buggs.
When asked why he chose to become a civil rights attorney, Crump explained that his time growing up in Lumberton, NC made him realize as a young child that “racism was not an organic dynamic.” After being told by his mother that Black kids were now allowed to enjoy the privileges of white kids in his town because of civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall’s work in the case Brown v. Board of Education, Crump vowed that his career would be dedicated to helping “people who look like me” have an equal opportunity at achieving the American dream.
From then on, Crump worked his way into acceptance at FSU, a place where he said he discovered that he could achieve anything that he set his mind to. “We were inspired that we could change the world,” said Crump. The North Carolina native grew both socially and academically, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and Juris Doctor by 1995. At FSU, as he proudly stated, he also became a lifelong member of The Mighty Mighty Chi Theta chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
When it comes to why he chooses to be at the forefront of such troubling civil rights cases, Crump explains the importance of representing tragedies to change humanity. He says that in order for the basis of the American Constitution to be met: “A Black baby born to a Black mother, the most uneducated, most inarticulate, most impoverished Black woman has the same exact rights as a white baby born to a white mother, the most educated, most articulate, most affluent white mother just by virtue of that baby drawing his first breath as an American citizen,” said Crump.
While Crump said that most policy-making cannot keep up with the advancements of social media in today’s world, he mentioned that there is an advantage to having the truth caught on camera and shared with a mass medium. “Without the video of George Floyd, those officers would not have been convicted,” said Crump. Crump explained that a different narrative had already been written that night by the officers that would have allowed them to not be charged had there been no one filming that day.
After Dr. Bugg’s questions concluded, Crump allowed audience members to come forward with their own questions in a Q&A period. The FSView asked for the lawyer’s stance on police accountability and defunding the police.
Crump replied that while police are the “most digital people we see,” committing acts of racial inequality, “it’s the system.” Crump went on to say that one in three Black men are convicted felons in America and that over 40 percent of those on death row are Black men. “Just because they call it legal, that doesn’t mean it’s right,” the civil rights attorney states. “One and every three Black men will have to wear [that] scarlet letter for the rest of their lives as a second-class citizen.”
Crump concluded the event with a statement on why everyone should join the battle against racial injustice and inequality. “…When we fight for the Trayvon Martins of the world, when we fight for the Breonna Taylors of the world, when we fight for the George Floyds of the world and more importantly when we fight the least of these, what we are doing is helping America live up to its creed,” said Crump. “But what we are really doing is helping America be America for all Americans, for we must make them make the law an instrument of good.”
George Limage, president of the Mighty, Mighty Chi Theta Chapter, shared his feelings on seeing one of his own have so much success and influence in the world while bringing justice to those without a voice. “I feel like Brother Crump sets such a high standard for our organization, [so] it makes us prideful to identify with a group that he’s a part of.”
Student Government Association (SGA) president Sam Diaz says he hopes to implement some of the ideas Crump advocated for during Tuesday’s Q&A to prevent discriminatory acts against marginalized groups at FSU, like the recent planned attack on the LGBTQ+ community. “Learning from his examples will help us continue promoting human and civil rights here on campus.”