Featured photo: Attorney Ben Crump stands with Fred Cox Jr.’s mother Tenicka Shannon at a rally in High Point in June 2021. (photo by Carolyn de Berry)
Tenicka Shannon falls in front of the steps of a brick church, her back towards the camera. She’s surrounded by family and loved ones who have come to support her as she approaches the exact location where her son, Fred Cox Jr., was shot and killed by a Davidson County sheriff’s deputy on Nov. 8, 2020. Right before Shannon makes it to the steps, another woman can be heard in the background crying, “Oh god, I can’t go in there.”
“My baby, my only baby,” Shannon cries as she falls at the steps. “He took my only baby.”
The scene is short but powerful, coming an hour and 13 minutes into a new documentary that began streaming on Netflix earlier this week. The film, Civil: Ben Crump, is an hour-and-41-minute work that captures the life of civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump during 2020-21.
Crump has garnered national recognition over the last decade for taking on high-profile civil rights cases in which unarmed Black people have been killed by police, the most famous of which being the George Floyd case.
As the film opens, a woman’s voice can be heard calling Crump’s phone.
“Yes, I’m calling, well, I don’t really know where to start,” says the woman as the documentary transcribes the conversation on a black screen. “My cousin was just murdered by a Minneapolis police officer; his name is George Perry Floyd.”
The case acts as a throughline as Crump and his team work with Floyd’s family to sue the city of Minneapolis and the four former police officers who were involved in Floyd’s murder. As the documentarians capture Crump’s fight for the Floyd family, the story of how he became a civil rights attorney plays out on the screen. Snippets of him as an Omega Psi Phi fraternity brother during his time at Florida State University and his early days as an attorney give context to Crump’s life. In the beginning, Crump explains that he and his partner took on all kinds of cases so they could pay rent. But over time, he made a name for himself by representing those who were killed by law enforcement. One of the first cases taken on by Crump that captured national attention was the case of Trayvon Martin.
“Trayvon Martin prepared me for George Floyd,” Crump says.
In April 2012, Martin’s family won their wrongful-death suit after it was settled for an undisclosed amount. A little more than a year later, in June and July 2013, George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, was acquitted of all charges.
And that push and pull of justice acts as the main conflict within the film. As a civil attorney, Crump talks plainly about how his role isn’t to try and bring criminal charges against individuals.
“There are only so many things we can do as private lawyers,” Crump says in the film. “We don’t have the power to arrest anyone. We don’t have the power to charge anybody for crime. The only thing I can do is make a jury give financial compensation as a measure of accountability, as a measure of justice.”
On March 12, 2021, Crump and his team won their wrongful death lawsuit after the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $27 million in the George Floyd case. At the time, Crump called it the “largest pre-trial settlement in a civil rights wrongful death case in U.S. history.” On April 20, 2021, Derek Chauvin, Floyd’s killer, was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter to become the first white Minnesota police officer to be convicted of murdering a Black person. In June 2021, he was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.
In August 2021, Crump and his team filed a civil lawsuit against the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and deputy Michael Shane Hill in the killing of Fred Cox Jr.
“Nineteen-year-old Frederick Cox Jr.’s name joins that row of our teenage Black boys who have been killed and nobody has been held accountable,” Crump says at a press conference captured in the film. “….[T]he question is: Why do police in America keep shooting Black people unnecessarily? Frederick Cox, shot in the back.”
The complaint, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina includes six counts including the use of excessive force by Hill, as well as a Monell claim alleging a pattern of practices and behaviors by the Davidson County Sheriff’s office that violate the civil rights of individuals. The complaint includes a wrongful-death claim and negligence as well as a survival battery and negligence claim, all of which attempt to show that Hill “caused malicious and needless bodily harm and reasonable care was not taken to prevent those injuries,” according to the press release.
The civil suit is still ongoing.
As far as being a part of the film, Shannon said she’s happy that her son’s case will get more exposure but she wishes he was known for something other than his death.
“It’s great to know that his case will be known worldwide,” Shannon told TCB. “However it’s sad, difficult and heartbreaking that Fred Cox has to be known because of an officer that used unnecessary deadly force to rectify a situation that my son was not even a part of. Why Fred? This is a question that I’ve had since 11-8-2020.”
To learn more about the Fred Cox case, go here. Civil: Ben Crump is currently streaming on Netflix.
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