Martin family lawyer known for civil rights cases

Associated Press Modified: March 30, 2012 at 2:46 am •  Published: March 30, 2012
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SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — When Benjamin Crump got his first call from Trayvon Martin's father last month, the attorney counseled patience.

It had only been two days since a neighborhood watch volunteer had fatally shot the 17-year-old, and surely an arrest was imminent, thought Crump, who has pursued several civil rights cases against law enforcement agencies.

Another day passed. Nothing.

Two more days passed. Still nothing.

"I believed in my heart of hearts they were going to arrest him," Crump said Thursday in an interview. "I said, 'Oh, they are going to arrest him. You don't need me on this.'"

More than a month later, there still has been no arrest.

But thanks largely to Crump's efforts, the case has stirred marches and rallies around the nation, merited comment from President Barack Obama, led to the resignation of the Sanford police chief and brought scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice into this Orlando suburb of 55,000 residents.

"When you have the president commenting on the matter and you have celebrities and politicians wearing their hoodies as a symbol of the cause that you're representing, and it has taken over the world's attention, this is overwhelming in a sense," said Crump, who was in Washington for several days of meeting with members of Congress and appearing on national news shows. "We've been pushing relentlessly day and night."

Crump's strategy for making the case international news began with a series of heart-wrenching news conferences in which Martin's parents spoke about their loss. Florida media outlets began to notice. Then, he enlisted U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown to help convince authorities to release 911 tapes, recordings that brought the case to the attention of national media. He's further ratcheted pressure on authorities by organizing a series of rallies and working with national civil rights figures such as Al Sharpton.

The push began not long after Martin's death on the night of Feb. 26. Martin, wearing a hoodie, was walking home from a Sanford, Fla. convenience store when he was spotted by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who called a police dispatcher to report Martin as suspicious. There was a confrontation, and Martin was shot. Zimmerman has told detectives he shot Martin in self-defense.

Martin's death raises questions about the role of vigilantism, racial profiling and Florida's self-defense laws. Under those laws, a person isn't obligated to retreat in a threatening situation. Zimmerman's father has said his son wasn't profiling Martin and that he isn't racist. Zimmerman's mother is Hispanic and his father is white.

Crump was first contacted by a cousin of Trayvon Martin's father. The cousin, a Miami attorney, was familiar with Crump's civil rights work in Florida. Before Martin's death, Crump was best known for representing the parents of a teenage boy who died after an encounter with guards at a Florida boot camp in 2006. The videotaped beating of Martin Lee Anderson attracted national attention and led to the closure of the state's boot camps for juvenile offenders.

Crump, 42, and his wife, Genae Angelique Crump, are raising two teenage boys who are the biological sons of Crump's cousin. The oldest is Martin's age.

"Trayvon hits home on many levels," Crump said.

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