Answer the Bell: Trayvon Martin Family Attorney Speaks… (video)

Answer the Bell: Trayvon Martin Family Attorney Speaks to WSU Law Students (video)

(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 18, 2014)

When attorney Benjamin Crump got the call in Feb. 2012 from a family whose unarmed 17-year-old son had been shot by a Rudy Serra campaign adneighborhood watchman, he at first believed that if the family was patient, the shooter would be arrested and charged with murder.

As Trayvon Martin’s family waited in agony, it became more apparent that the shooter, George Zimmerman, would not face trial. That’s when Crump knew he had to get involved. He and his legal team pushed for an investigation and arrest, and when that failed they took Martin’s story to the media in hopes that the pressure might bring justice.

It ultimately did not, as Zimmerman was not convicted. However, the case brought attention to the way self-defense laws, like the ‘stand your ground’ law, have changed over the years and given people the option of killing someone even when their own life may not be in imminent danger. Crump spoke to Wayne State University Law students on April 14 about his experience in the Martin case and others, and shared his view about why the newer laws are dangerous and inconsistently enforced.

seed03_ann_warner“Before it became the number one news story in the world in 2013, it was just us on that phone and we had to make a decision whether to answer the bell or not,” Crump said.  “And that’s what I came to talk to you about. That is the title of my talk with you: ‘Will you answer the bell?’ Will you answer the bell, when nobody is looking? When nobody is looking, will you answer the bell for the least of ye?”

Crump spoke of civil rights leaders and lawyers who paved the way for his generation. Quoting Charles Hamilton Houston, he said “He would tell Thurgood Marshall and all the young lawyers who were up under his tutelage, ‘Either you are social engineer for change and justice or you’re a parasite on society.’

He advised that a good career in law is not about making money, but about serving justice. “You try to do HowesLocationthe right thing. The money and that is going to come, you’re going to be alright. I’m claiming it for you, you are going to be lawyers. Give yourself a round of applause. That’s all going to work out. You’re all going to make money. It’s going to happen,” Crump said. “The barometer will be will you answer the bell? Let that be the test. I could not have predicted when I got that phone call, in February 2012 that all of this was going to happen. There was no way to fathom it. All I was trying to do was do the right thing. You do the right thing and God just takes over from there. It’s real, you do the right thing and you’re going to be fine. You’re going to be okay. You just have to have the courage to do the right thing, Even when it’s unpopular. Even when people talk about you.”

In the audience law students sat among prominent attorneys and judges. But it was about a dozen teenage boys ctechadfrom a school group that Crump specifically called upon to stand. He shook their hands and implored them to go into the world and do good.

To the lawyers and law students, Crump said “I want you all to remember this, and I want you to analyze these words, because you all have got to get it right… I don’t want you to think that it was old people doing it. You go look at the [Judge] Keith Center…You see know young Judge Keith was? How young Martin Luther King was? How young Thurgood Marshall was? They were your age and they were just doing right, bringing on changes. So when you get these opportunities to analyze the laws,  discuss the laws, and argue the laws, and, yes, when you all become legislators make the laws, when you become judges interpret the laws – you have to remember the message that is being sent by your actions.”jennifer sandler bowen reflexology

Though the Martin case is perhaps the best known, other self-defense-based cases have shown how the law has changed to make fatal use of force more acceptable. “It’s such a terrible message when you think about what we are communicating to society. Don’t try to settle your differences with conversation and dialogue, conflict resolution, now just take your gun out and kill them. … There was nothing wrong with self-defense. You learn that in first year evidence. Self-defense says that you have a duty to retreat if it is safe and reasonable that you do so. It has worked for over 200 years. That’s fine. We have the castle theory. And the castle theory we could accept it because it said if you came to my house and threatened me, if you brought crime to my sidebar01sponsorhouse, I had no duty to retreat. I don’t have to run from my home I can defend myself in my home. There was some objective criteria… But then the ‘stand your ground’ laws came along,” he said.

Crump gave a list of examples where the law has had questionable ramifications for justice, including a man who shot another over popcorn at a movie theatre, a woman who was incarcerated after firing a warning shot at her abusive partner, a man who shot another at a gas station because he did not like his loud music, and man who had been attacked at a bar and shot his attacker in the leg who was then convicted of attempted murder.

Crump is an advocate for repealing the ‘stand your ground’ law, and often speaks on the subject.

The take-away, he said, is this, “Ten years from now, 20 years from now, I heard this lawyer screamin’ at us and he said ‘we got to answer the bell, even when nobody’s watching. In fact, mostly when nobody’s watching.”

Benjamin Cump is a principal with the Tallahassee firm of Parks & Crump, LLC.  More information on Crump and his firm can be found at www.parkscrump.com.  For more on Wayne State Law go to http://law.wayne.edu/.

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