By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who skyrocketed to national prominence by representing the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was followed, confronted and shot to death by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., said that since the 4th grade, he always knew that he wanted to grow up and fight for the community.
“The measure of a man is defined by the impact that they make on the world,” said Crump. “Everyday we have to get up and ask, ‘What impact are we going to make on the world?’ and we have to do it, because our children are watching us.”
During the 2015 Black Press Week, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Foundation honored Crump as the Newsmaker of the Year for his service to the community, especially to the families of young people of color who had been brutalized or killed by law enforcement officials. The NNPA is a trade group that represents more than 200 Black newspapers published in the United States.
“I go on FOX News a lot and I have these intelligent debates with these Bill O’Reillys and these Megyn Kellys and I know that when I leave they’re going to make it look bad and everything, but you gotta go, you gotta keep talking to them and not let them [create] the only narrative,” said Crump. “We’ll come on to talk about Trayvon, and we’ll come on to talk about Michael Brown and Eric Garner, because if I don’t talk about it, it’s swept under the rug.”
Crump added: “So, I don’t care if you criticize me and say that we’re trying to be race baiters, because the greatest fear is to remain silent. Silence is almost like betrayal.”
Crump, 45, said that giving a voice to the voiceless has been the most important part of his career.
“Making people know the name of Trayvon Martin, the name of the Michael Brown, know the name of the Tamir Rice, know the name of Chavis Carter, know the name of Kendrick Johnson in Valdosta, Ga., know the name of Victor White III in New Iberia, La., know the name of Alesia Thomas in Los Angeles, Calif., Jesus Huerta in Durham, N.C., know the name of Leon Ford in Pittsburgh, Pa., know the name of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Wash., the list goes on and on,” said Crump. “If this was happening to White children, it would be a war.”
During his remarks at the Torch Awards dinner, Crump credited Black-owned news media for daring to write and talk about the phenomenon he called the ‘‘Houdini handcuffed suicide killings” of young people of color in the back of police cars.
One of those “Houdini” killings involved Chavis Carter. On July 28, 2012, following a traffic stop in Jonesboro, Ark., police pulled Carter, 21, out of the truck that he was riding in with two White men. After searching Carter twice, police said that they recovered a small amount of marijuana, then put him in the back of their police car and handcuffed him behind his back, where he supposedly shot himself in the head with a hidden handgun.
In 2013, Theresa Rudd, Carter’s mother, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Jonesboro police department. The suit said that no fingerprints were found on the gun that police claimed Carter used to shoot himself in the head and that the police car was washed, destroying potential evidence that could be used in future investigations.
The arresting officers, Ronald Marsh and Keith Baggett, received one month paid administrative and returned to active duty following the shooting.
“Without the Black Press I don’t know where we would be in these campaigns of justice for all these unknown, unnamed people of color who are killed everyday all across the world and swept under the rug,” said Crump.
Jennifer S. Carroll, the former lieutenant governor of Florida, who was honored with a Torch Award for her successful political career, also thanked the Black press for sharing her story. Carroll was the first woman to be elected as lieutenant governor and the first African American of Caribbean descent to be elected statewide since Reconstruction.
“Had it not been for the Black press, my accomplishments would not have been told at all in mainstream media,” Carroll said. “We have an audience that needs to be informed and the Black press fills that vacuum that exists in mainstream press.”
Carroll continued: “For many of you, it’s been a struggle to keep the lights on, but you know the importance of the work that you do, that your commitment is to not let down the journalists and the publishers that have come before you.”
Filmmaker Jeff Friday (Entertainment), B. Doyle Mitchell, Jr., president and CEO of the Industrial Bank (Business), and Grammy-award winning gospel singer Bishop Hezekiah Walker (Religion) were also honored with Torch Awards. Willie Myrick, was presented NNPA’s first “Junior Newsmaker of the Year” Award. Last year, at the age of 9, Myrick was kidnapped while playing near his Atlanta home. He sang Bishop Hezekiah Walker’s hit song, “Every Praise” for three hours until his abductor finally threw him on the street and drove away.
In a separate ceremony, the late Francis Page, Sr., founder and publisher of the Houston NewsPages, and Dr. Ludwaldo O. Perry, co-founder of the Tennessee Tribune with his wife, Rosetta Miller-Perry, were enshrined in the Gallery of Distinguished Black Publishers at Howard University.
At the awards dinner, Friday said that the more that he traveled around the world promoting Black films and culture, the more he realized that the perceptions of African Americans are being poisoned by the mainstream media.
“We’ve been talking about Black lives matter,” said Friday. “But Black images matter, too.”