By Makini Brice
(Reuters) – As the world follows the often-emotional testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, members of Floyd’s family watch a live feed in a separate room in the courthouse.
Frequently by their side is civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, who heads the family’s legal team.
Floyd and his brothers often slept in the same bed as children, with Floyd playing the role of protector, Crump says.
“For us, it’s a case. It’s a cause. It’s a hashtag,” Crump told Reuters. “For them … it’s their family. This is their blood.”
Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, died after Chauvin, who is white, kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes. His death, captured on bystander video, sparked worldwide protests over racism and police brutality.
Chauvin, who faces up to 40 years in prison on murder and manslaughter charges, has pleaded not guilty.
The case is familiar terrain for Crump, who is frequently called upon to represent the families of slain African Americans in civil lawsuits, including Trayvon Martin, a teen shot dead in 2013 by a neighborhood watchman, and Breonna Taylor, who died during a botched police raid.
Crump, 51, who grew up in rural North Carolina and attended segregated schools for most of elementary school, sees his role as a civil rights advocate who keeps media attention on Black victims who otherwise might not receive “full justice” under the U.S. Constitution.
Grand juries rarely indict police officers for killing a suspect in the line of duty in the United States, particularly when the victim is Black, according to legal experts.
“What we’re doing is continuing to make the arguments in the court of public opinion,” said Crump. “The court of law is not very kind to marginalized minorities.”
With that in mind, Crump often resorts to civil litigation.
It was Crump who helped the Floyd family sue the city of Minneapolis, resulting in a $27 million settlement that he has called the largest pre-trial settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. history.
The settlement, coming two weeks before the trial opened, came under criticism for its potential influence on jurors being selected for the criminal trial, including from the judge who called it “unfortunate.”
Crump dismissed the criticism, saying that white families frequently receive civil settlements before criminal “justice” in similar cases.
“It’s just Black people hardly ever get big civil settlements,” he said. “We see all the statistics tell us that our white brothers and sisters get more in civil verdicts and civil settlements than minorities in America, and that’s why we have to say ‘Black lives matter.'”
So far, Crump said he was pleased with the prosecution’s presentation in the Chauvin case and said several witnesses, including top police officers who described Chauvin’s use of force as excessive, delivered powerful testimonies.
He sharply criticized the defense’s attempt to blame Chauvin’s use of force on the crowd around him at the time of Floyd’s arrest, calling it “asinine.” The defense has argued that Floyd may have died of a drug overdose.
The defense is “becoming more and more desperate,” Crump said. “And I pray and believe that the jury will be able to see through that.”
The case against Chauvin could go to the jury for deliberation as early as next week. Even as the jurors continue to hear arguments, Crump is taking up the mantle for other cases.
On Thursday, Crump appeared at a news conference in Houston to announce a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Pamela Turner. Turner, a Black woman suffering from a mental illness, was shot by a police officer outside her apartment complex.
“We deserve better policing than this,” Crump said.
Like many plaintiffs’ lawyers in the United States, Crump works on a contingency basis. Crump’s office did not respond to questions about the payment in the Floyd case, but plaintiffs’ attorneys frequently receive around a third of the settlement amount.