Ben Crump paints a chilling picture in his new book of how black and brown people in this country are often killed by police officers and private citizens, who then get away with murder.
And while the sheer number of people who have been killed is shocking and overwhelming, Crump, the Florida lawyer known for representing the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Botham Jean, among others, said his book, Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People, is more than a tabulation of victims’ cases.
Rather, he said, it is a call to acknowledge “how this legalized genocide is possible through a conspiracy of laws, policing, and the governance of the institutions that exist in America.”
“Remember, no moral society will accept horrific killings of innocent people unless it is somehow justified as rational,” he writes in the book, where he makes a case to charge genocide just as activists did in a 1951 petition to the United Nations.
“This is why the powers that be constantly portray minorities as uncivilized, dangerous savages who are not deserving of the equal respect and consideration that law enforcement officers must extend to white citizens.”
The Inquirer spoke to Crump in advance of his appearance Monday at an event sponsored by WHYY and the Literary Cafe to launch his book.
Why did you write this book?
There’s a quote I use when I give speeches: “Democracy is like two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch, and you don’t have to be a genius to know who is going to win. But liberty is making sure the lamb is well-armed to protest that vote.” With Open Season, we are trying to make sure the young lambs from communities of color are well-armed to protest the school-to-prison pipeline, racist Jim Crow laws like Stand Your Ground, to protest voter suppression, to protest environmental racism, that would have children living in South Central Los Angeles having only one-third of lung capacity of children from Santa Monica. We want them well-armed to protest people of color and women of color not only having to worry about losing their constitutional rights, but also having to lose their reproductive rights. As late as 2014, in California, they were having forced sterilizations of black and Hispanic women that were in prison.
Are you concerned about critics who say you’ve gone too far in calling police shootings and environmental racism genocide?
My grandma taught me when you get a chance to speak truth to power, you do it. We can’t sugarcoat what is happening to our children. We can’t be polite about it. These are our children being put in the school-to-prison pipeline, getting diseased from drinking water. Officials are letting polluting corporations exist within the breathing space of our families.
I’ll go back to what Dr. King said about the coward asking the question, ‘Is it safe? Is it politically correct? Is it popular?’ There comes a time when one must take a position that is not popular, or politically correct, or not even safe. But one must take a position because conscience tells them it’s the right thing to do, to stand up for our children, to speak for our children, to fight for our children. If we don’t do it, nobody else will. Am I afraid people will be upset because I’m calling it genocide? No.
Your book cites research that found nonwhite officers kill both black and Latino suspects at a higher rate than white officers do. How do you respond to those who say that the police shootings in Ferguson and elsewhere are not based on racism?
Institutional racism goes beyond one’s own ethnicity. We all have implicit biases and often, we are not aware of them. We all are affected by racist messages we see in movies, books and news stories that put people in categories, like “dangerous” or “criminal,” based on their skin color. I talk about this in the chapter: “Police Don’t Shoot White Men in the Back.”
Why do you say there is a conspiracy between laws, the police and the courts?
The legislative, executive and judicial branches are all conspiring in this genocidal situation of black people and brown people and disenfranchised people, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups. The judiciary is supposed to be the safeguard, the last refuge against injustice. But they are the very catalyst that propagates injustice.
Stand Your Ground laws allow a person to kill anyone they feel may be a threat. When Obama tried to levy fines against companies that were polluting in poor communities, the courts struck them down. The book tells of a poor black woman who pleaded guilty to income tax fraud of $60,000. She was jailed – and later beaten to death by a prison guard. But when the big banks were found guilty of fraud that led to the mortgage crisis in 2008, they appealed their fine, and had their convictions overturned by the courts.
Botham Jean was killed in his own apartment by Amber Guyger, the officer who was found guilty of his murder. Is this a turning point in terms of justice?
I think this was the first time in history that a white policewoman was convicted of murder for killing a black man. It’s a justice, but we have to keep fighting to get to equal justice of law. We are hopeful. But the conviction of Amber Guyger still does not mean that the punishment fit the crime. There are all these black men on death row, and I doubt very seriously that their crimes were any less heinous. But she gets 10 years, and will be home in five. They are on death row for life. We have to keep fighting for right and truth.
6 p.m., Monday, Oct. 21, at WHYY and the Literary Cafe in Conversation, 150 N. Sixth St., whyy.org/events/
Tickets: $15 without a book and $35 to purchase book.