Sometimes, conversations with guests produce so many powerful insights and meaningful stories that they can’t all make it into the final cut. One of those conversations took place last fall with Attorney Ben Crump, legal counsel for the family of George Floyd. As we celebrate Juneteenth, following weeks of powerful Black Lives Matter protests, his insights on police brutality and the value of Black lives are more compelling than ever. We invite you to listen to this special episode with additional observations from this renowned civil rights advocate on what it means to be Black in America.
Links & Resources
Watch Attorney Ben Crump’s full speech at the site of George Floyd’s death
Learn more about the meaning of and history behind Juneteenth.
Hi. I’m Michelle Ubben and this is Ubben Talkin’. When I launched this podcast last year, one of my first guests was my friend — renowned civil rights and trial Attorney Ben Crump. He is, in many ways, leading the modern civil rights movement in our country by standing up against systemic racism and representing people of color who’ve been victimized by violence and injustice. He represented the family of Trayvon Martin, whose death sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and, sadly, so many more since then. In recent weeks, Ben took on the cases of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while jogging, Breonna Taylor, who was killed while sleeping, and George Floyd, whose horrific death has sparked protests around the world.
Listen to Ben’s impassioned remarks from the site of George Floyd’s death.
This moment is a tipping point to change America and see if America truly believes in the words of Thomas Jefferson. That we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equally, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that amongst them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Where in America, that means Black people too.
Although the conversation you’re about to hear was recorded months ago, it’s deeply relevant right now. This week, America will celebrate Juneteenth, the day when the last enslaved African Americans learned that Pres. Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation and they were finally free. For African Americans, it is their independence day. And it’s a time when all Americans can grow our understanding of how we got here as a country and reflect on where we need to go. In honor of Juneteenth, join me for my conversation with Attorney Ben Crump.
So the second part of why I wrote this book was something I saw that happened in Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown when this young Black Lives Matter activist was confronting the National Guard who had been called in by the governor. They had their assault weapons out trained on him at center mass and all the cameras, all the crowds were out there at the climax in many regards of the Ferguson Uprising. Michael Brown, 14 witnesses, 12 Bllack, two White, said he had his hands up when the police shot and killed him. The one White police officer who killed Michael Brown said, “No, no, he didn’t have his hands up.” And the prosecutor’s office chose to believe him over all the other witnesses, but these Black Lives Matter activists, these young people, refused to remain silent.
On this particular day, they were not going to let them sweep Michael Brown’s death under the rug. He was confronting the National Guard, his facility practically touching the tips of the rifle, and he said, “Go ahead and kill me now with all these cameras out here because you all are going to kill us anyway when the cameras go away.” He said, “Kill me now so the world can see how you all are killing us.”
I was riveted by his statement because I agree, it is important for the world to see how they’re killing us, but not just with these bullets and high-profile police shootings, but more poignantly how they’re killing us every day in every city in every state in every courtroom in America with these trumped-up felony convictions. They’re literally using the law itself that’s supposed to protect us to kill us. You look at the statistics. Over and over, the fact that they opine in the next 25 years one out of every three Black men are going to be a convicted felon. It’s like they’re killing us softly because when you become a convicted felon in America, your life changes.
It really is a wake-up call, and you make such a compelling case. I remember at the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement after Trayvon’s death, you heard White people say, “Well, all lives matter.” And of course they do, but it misses the point that Black lives have been repeatedly undervalued in our society.
Absolutely. When you look at the statistics on death row, Black men ought to make up 7% of the population in America, but yet make up almost 50% of the population on death row. It’s hard to make sense of that statistic unless you say one of two things. Either one, Black men are some terrible, evil, thuggish-
… dangerous criminal-minded human beings, or two, the criminal justice system is racist and discriminatory, and it targets Black men. I choose to believe Black men are no better or no worse than any other men in America whether White, Hispanic, Native, Asian, whatever. We’re all just people, and as Dr. King said, there’s some good in the worst of us and some bad in the best of us. So this statistic clearly shows that Black men are being targeted by this criminal justice system.
And the fact that the easiest way to get on death row in America, it’s two ways. One, to be a person of color and to kill a White person, or two, to be a person of color and be accused of killing a White person. That’s the quickest way to get on death row in America. When you juxtapose that, Michelle, and a White person kills a person of color, because of these Jim Crow stand your ground laws, there’s no guarantee that they would even be arrested. They kill people of color and go home and sleep in their beds at night.
It’s very troubling when you think about that statistic, but it’s the intellectually justification of discrimination because it sends a message. You don’t have to say a word. You just look at those statistics, and they send the message that we value White life more than we value lives of people of color. You know there are statistics, and we break them down in the book, it is 357 times more likely that a White person would be found to be justified based on self-defense or one of the other defenses when they kill a Black person as opposed to when a White person kills a White person.
And it gets worse. A White person is 500% likely to be found justified in killing of a Black person based on self-defense as opposed to if a Black person kills a White person. We can say self-defense, we can say stand your ground, we can say the castle doctrine defense. We can say whatever we want to say. If we kill a White person, we will be making that argument from a jail cell, and very likely it will be on death row at some point.
Again, we’re at the crossroads, as you said, Michelle, where we have people in America who want to try to play on our fears, on our least common denominators, for whatever reasons. I absolutely believe that they’re going to be on the wrong side of history and that they’re going to have to answer to god for their just evil acts on his children because of what science has said is the least factor in what we achieve on this earth, and that’s the skin color. But they have made that such a preeminent factor in how they’re going to judge and treat others, and we see that play out in our institutions and on a systematic basis, and that’s what we talk about in the book.
Legalized genocide is systematic discrimination. It’s not just the individuals even though individuals play a role. It’s the institutions. So I would say that it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but if we’re to better ourselves as a society, if we’re to better ourselves as a nation, if we’re to better ourselves as human beings, we must have this conversation. Children are literally dying because of racism and discrimination. Nobody who lived through the Civil Rights thought we would still be dealing with these same issues, but like we said, they’ve become more sophisticated, these enemies of equality.
There are so many examples where the law can be a very powerful weapon to save people, to restore people, to give people equal justice, equal hope, equal opportunity versus what many people in America today use the law, and that is a weapon to kill us.
Your love of country and your commitment to justice led you to become a lawyer. Do you still believe in America’s potential to live up the lofty ideals on which it was founded?
I do, Michelle, and I’ve gotten some pushback from that from a lot of young activists of color who say America don’t care anything about us. I believe that there’s more good people in the world than bad people. I believe there are more good Americans than bad Americans who try to keep certain Americans down as underclass citizens.
I think the ultimate solution to get over the legalized genocide of colored people is we must make sure that our children are more intelligent than those who will seek to oppress them.