By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney famous for representing the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, drew several hundred participants to the Diocese of Jackson’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial celebration in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle Sunday, Jan. 11, at 3 p.m. Crump quoted King throughout his presentation, emphasizing the notion that true peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of true justice.
Trayvon Martin was a black teenager who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Florida. Martin had walked to a corner store to get a drink and Skittles. Crump said when he took the first call from Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, he had no idea the case would garner world-wide attention. Crump said he will always remember that first call.
“From that day to this one thing I can’t define, I can’t articulate is that sound in his voice. The heartbrokenness, the despair,” he went on to say. Even Crump’s law partners worried that the case would be a hard one to win thus sapping valuable time and resources from the firm. He told them he knew all that, “but if I don’t take the case, who will?”
The firm lost the criminal case based on a so-called “stand your ground” self-defense law, but the national reaction started a new conversation about race relations and weapons in America. “When you answer the bell and God is watching, you don’t know what is going to happen,” said Crump. He said working for true justice requires sacrifice and struggle. “God put us on earth to do something for his glory and God cares about true justice,” said Crump.
Although the Martin case involved a white shooter and a black victim, Crump said he was seeking justice beyond racial lines. “It doesn’t matter if the finger on the trigger is black or white, that doesn’t matter. We must speak up,” he said. After the Martin case, Crump became involved in the case of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man shot by police.
Protests following these cases have spawned the phrase ‘black lives matter.’ Crump said people should believe that all lives matter. He called on parents in the audience to speak to their children about respect for themselves and society, to participate in issues of social justice and to be an example of speaking up for justice.
Crump also had warm words for the state, congratulating the community on the recent prosecution of a group of teenagers who admitted coming to Jackson to harass and beat black people. Two of the teens pleaded guilty in federal court Friday. After the speech, Crump said given the history of racial violence in Mississippi, he and others are pleased to see the outrage the case inspired.
“That’s why it’s interesting and ironic here in Mississippi. You all are going to be an example for these other states of what equal justice is, what true peace is, because it’s the presence of justice that everybody says ‘when it happens in our community people are held accountable too,’” said Crump. He added that he hopes the perpetrators can change. “We as a society we all have to help each other become better. We have these tragedies, but out of every tragedy there is an opportunity to learn and become a better society. Hopefully there will be redeeming qualities (in this situation) that we will try to hopefully talk about rehabilitation and not just punishment,” he said.
Benjamin Cone and Worship, an ecumenical choir, sang for the event. Cone even offered a song he wrote with his teenage son in reaction to the Trayvon Martin case. Bishop Joseph Kopacz commented on their powerful voices, saying he was glad the cathedral had strong windows. The bishop also offered a reading about justice from the prophet
Isaiah. He agreed with Crump that we all are called to work for justice. “Sometimes in the quiet conversations (such as the one Crump had with Tracy Martin), before the world gets a hold of it, is when God speaks to us,” he said. He also added that when we work to advance the dream Dr. King had, “we still carry forward this dream of God.”