Civil: Ben Crump (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A lawyer against racial injustices

Netflix documentary film “Civil: Ben Crump”, which was released on last Sunday, mainly revolves around one African American civil rights lawyer who has fought against the racial injustices in the American society for many years. As observing how he handled a number of cases, the movie gives us close glimpses into his considerable professional dedication, and it is certainly nice to see that his tenacious efforts of many years actually lead to some significant social progress in the end.

At the beginning, the documentary introduces to us its titular hero Ben Crump, and then we listen to the recorded conversation between him and a close family member of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who, as many of you know, was asphyxiated to death due to the unjustly harsh response from a local police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After listening to this close family member of Floyd with real care and empathy, Crump comes to represent Floyd’s family, and then he gives some advice on all those slanders to be hurled against Floyd and his family sooner or later.

While observing how he prepares for his case, the documentary lets Crump talk about his past as well as several notable cases which brought more prominence to his small but respectable law firm. Although he was born to a poor family living in Lumberton, North Carolina, he grew up fairly well under his grandmother’s care, and he eventually went to a law school thanks to her steady encouragement. Shortly after he graduated, he came to establish his law firm along with his close friend/colleague, and Crump reminisces with some amusement about how willing they were to take any injury case good enough for financing the law firm during those years.

In the meantime, he also put considerable efforts into many civil rights lawsuits coming into his hand. Before the Floyd case, he already handled a lot of similar lawsuits associated with police brutality such as the one involved with Breonna Taylor, and he also represented the family members of Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death by a guy named George Zimmerman in 2012. As many of you still remember, Zimmerman was eventually acquitted at the following trial, and this exasperating injustice was certainly another devastating blow to Martin’s family members, though they received a considerable amount of settlement thanks to Crump’s efforts at least.

Crump has been criticized by some people for usually demanding a high amount of settlement for his clients, but he argues that it is a right thing to do for not only his clients but also the legal system itself, which has inherently been biased against African American citizens for years. Through those big settlements from his lawsuits, he intends to give some hard lessons upon the system, and this strategy of his has actually worked because many cities around the country come to start the reformation of their police departments.

However, there are always considerable possibilities of danger around Crump as he becomes more prominent in public. Not so surprisingly, he and his law firm have frequently received numerous anonymous death threats, and he surely takes some necessary cautions. During his many business trips around the country, he is always accompanied by his longtime bodyguard, and this dude later tells us a bit about the long history between him and Crump, who willingly gave him a second chance despite his criminal past.

The documentary also shows many other cases to be handled by Crump besides the Floyd case. While some of them are as serious as the Floyd case, others seem less significant in comparison, but every case feels important to Crump nonetheless. In case of one African woman, she experienced a small but undeniably infuriating case of racism at a local bank, and that surely reminds us of how millions of African Americans have been disadvantaged in many aspects.

As busily handling all these and other cases day by day, Crump often finds himself separated from his dear wife and daughter, and he naturally regrets not being there for them many times. At least, both his wife and daughter understand and appreciate what he has tried to do outside everyday, and we get some sweet intimate moments as he talks with his wife and daughter via video call.

Meanwhile, the documentary comes to focus on the Floyd case again. When the Floyd case was eventually going through its last chapter, Crump and his colleagues worked harder than before for getting the best result, and, to their surprise, the outcome turned out to be much better than they cautiously expected. While the city council of Minneapolis unanimously agreed to a historical amount of settlement for Floyd’s close family members, the jury of the trial on that police officer found him guilty of all charges, and Crump and everyone around him rejoiced at that.

Overall, “Civil: Ben Crump”, directed by Nadia Hallgren, is an engaging documentary for anyone who has paid attention to its important social issues. I must point out that it becomes rather scattershot at times as trying to handle a bit too many elements within less than 100 minutes, but it still holds our attention with Crump functioning as its strong human center, and, in my humble opinion, he is surely one of admirable figures which remind me that there is still hope in the American society. Even at this point, he is working on a bunch of cases as shown at the end of the documentary, and I sincerely hope that he will keep going as before.

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