Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 9, 2022

Ben Crump strikes an imploring yet hopeful tone at MSE Symposium

By GRETA MARAS | October 16, 2021



Crump emphasized that just because something is legal doesn't make it morally right, citing a litany of historical injustices that were allowed by the law. 

The Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Symposium hosted Attorney Benjamin Crump for the third lecture in its 2021 “Rebuilding Our Future” series. Crump is a nationally renowned civil rights attorney who has represented clients in many high-profile cases such as the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the residents of Flint, Mich.

Crump will soon represent the family of Henrietta Lacks, who filed a lawsuit against the biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific on Oct. 4 for the unauthorized use of Lacks’ cells for scientific research. Crump invited Lacks’ grandson Lawrence Lacks and granddaughter-in-law Lisa Lacks to his MSE lecture and verbally recognized their presence to the audience. 

He highlighted the continued injustice that the Lacks family has faced despite their matriarch’s significant contributions to medical and scientific progress. The family has not received any form of compensation, and some members of the family have had severe health issues.

“It seems like a cruel joke that her offspring don't get adequate health care,” he said. “Black people aren’t getting to benefit from what they contribute to society like white people do.”

Junior Nyore Onovae told The News-Letter in an interview that she was familiar with Crump’s previous civil rights work, and was struck by his connection to the Lacks family’s case.

“It was really cool to see him in person given everything that’s been happening recently because I see him on TV all the time,” she said. “I thought it was really powerful that he invited the Lacks family because of how all of that happened here at Hopkins.”

While Crump has represented a number of families from high-profile police brutality cases, he shared stories of many other victims of police brutality to demonstrate the systematic mistreatment of Black people.

For example, Crump highlighted the significantly disparate treatments of Jacob Blake, a Black man, and Kyle Rittenhouse, a white man, by police in Kenosha, Wis. Blake was shot seven times and left paralyzed after running from a police officer. Rittenhouse shot three people and killed two with his assault rifle, after which he was able to walk by the Kenosha police and National Guard before being arrested alive.

“When you juxtapose these two situations, you ask, ‘Why do they do the most when it’s marginalized people of color and give the benefit of the doubt to our white brothers and sisters?’” he said. “Police shoot Black men and ask questions later, while white men can be confirmed murderers and they will still figure out how to take them alive.”

MSE Programming Co-Chair Husain Hakim found Crump’s personal devotion to the topic of civil rights and police brutality inspiring. He shared how the event moved him with The News-Letter

“It was very powerful and enlightening to hear his perspective on the inequities that still exist and police’s treatment of different races,” he said. “Hearing him emotionally describe the details of the many police brutality victims that he both has and hasn't defended really drove home how innocent these people were, and it was very powerful.”

Crump heavily emphasized the power that young people have in the fight against discrimination and oppression. He expressed his joy towards seeing large movements of young people of all different races mobilizing in response to the killing of Floyd in the summer of 2020. 

Crump iterated his enthusiasm for the strength of youth into a hopeful proclamation for students in the audience.

“You are going to be the future leaders in every aspect of American society. I am making the case that you all are the key to making America into a better and more just America,” he said. “You will do this because you are armed not with violence, guns and bullets, but with intellect, diplomacy and strategy.”

Drawing on his own experiences, Crump explained the personal and moral duty he feels as a figure in the public sphere. When he makes appearances on CNN or Good Morning America, he aims to hold a mirror to America in hopes that the hypocrisy within its systems will be reflected.

Crump encouraged students to be generous with their personal assets and to use them to contribute to the greater good.

“It is not difficult to do the right thing when you are blessed with education, talents and resources for a reason,” he said. “The reason is not just to benefit yourself. There’s a great African proverb that says, ‘Education means nothing if you keep it amongst the educated.’”

Junior Andre Vu believes that Crump’s message about the purpose of students’ education should be more heavily emphasized throughout their schooling.

“I think his message about how it’s a waste of our own education to not be active in approving our own views, but the equality of people within our view, is a very strong message,” he said in an interview with The News-Letter. “That needs to be reiterated in our education and should not be something that we just hear once.”

Onovae shared a similar view with Vu regarding the privilege of higher education, stating that it is the responsibility of students to use their education for the benefit of others.

“We’re privileged to be here at Hopkins, and the burden lies on us to take what we learned here and to use it for good once we leave,” she said. “That includes becoming a doctor and being aware of medical racism and being cognizant of how you treat your patients — or going into the technology or pharmaceutical industries and making sure the products you create aren’t being used to harm marginalized communities.”

Throughout his lecture Crump addressed questions of legality and morality by drawing upon the words of past civil rights leaders and his personal heroes, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. 

Crump referenced King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to emphasize the persistence of injustice in the law throughout history.

“Just because they tell you it’s legal, that doesn’t make it right,” he said. “The Holocaust was legal, slavery was legal, segregation was legal and killing Breonna Taylor was legal.”

Despite the onslaught of civil rights violations that Crump has dealt with in courts during his time as an attorney, he stated that he avoids feeling hopeless about his causes due to the tenacity of his ancestors in overcoming hurdles of slavery, their lack of human rights and segregation.

“Precedent is a likely indicator of what is to happen in the future. No matter what the enemies of inequality throw at us, we can overcome it,” he said. “We are going to win this war against implicit bias, discrimination and racism.”

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