Black Boys Are Not Safe on Our Streets

Attorney Benjamin Crump talks about the new Trayvon Martins, a brutal death and the fears for all black sons.

Kendrick Johnson (; Leon Ford Jr. (courtesy of Latonya Green)
Kendrick Johnson (; Leon Ford Jr. (courtesy of Latonya Green)

Benjamin Crump: I was demoralized by the Zimmerman verdict, but we must all stay on the front lines. Before the Zimmerman verdict, I had said that the Trayvon Martin case was going to set a precedent — and it did. Sadly, it set a precedent that the lives of young black males were disposable, and our justice system reiterated that with the verdict it delivered. But I will not stand idly by and let that be a commentary on our time.

Sybrina and Tracy [Trayvon Martin’s parents] are keeping the message and fight alive through the Trayvon Martin Foundation, and though their focus is on gun laws and “Stand your ground,” the broader message is that young black boys should be allowed to walk home in peace or go to school and their parents not worry about their safe return.

TR: Based on what you know, do you have a scenario in mind for what happened to Kendrick Johnson?

BC: Kendrick Johnson left home to go to school like any typical teenager and returned the next day in a body bag. It’s important for your readers to know that they live in rural Georgia and the school was mostly white. There is evidence that Kendrick may have been involved in a fight with some young white student weeks before, and that event may have precipitated his death. But what is most disturbing is that the school has refused to release the full video from four surveillance cameras in the gymnasium where he was found dead.

This reeks of foul play.

Police claim this was an accident, but the facts of the case don’t support that conclusion. It flies in the face of all common sense. And now that we have the report from the second autopsy, this story has become a real-life murder mystery.

If you see the photos of Kendrick’s broken body, the images are a stark reminder of Emmett Till. I can’t believe that once again, in the American South, there is a brutal murder of a young black boy, and the police have decided to spin a tale of accidental death.

This is what I call the unknown Trayvon. This story hasn’t dominated the news headlines, but it should. People everywhere should be disturbed and alarmed. What it says is that black parents must fear sending their child to school and not knowing whether that child will return home safely.

TR: Is there a role for the federal Justice Department in this case?

BC: Yes. We have been engaging with congressional leaders as well as members of Eric Holder’s Justice Department, and there may be clear civil rights violations that they can pursue. But most importantly now is that we bring public pressure and awareness. Because the case was initially closed at the local level, there has yet to be a full-scale FBI investigation, and we are trying to make that happen. Any reasonable person would conclude that there was foul play here, and … the local authorities did not raise questions about integrity and potential criminality. As I said before, this makes no sense.

TR: And where do things stand with Leon Ford Jr.?

BC: We are hoping the court will throw out the charges against Leon, because it is clear that he was unarmed and in reasonable fear of his life. But what is happening across the country is that police officers have been emboldened to act with impunity against the bodies and lives of young black males. This must stop. Leon Ford’s case is especially troubling because there is evidence the officers may have lied to authorities. This is all too common. Stories are constructed to make the victim seem like the aggressor.

How is it that black skin alone is so powerful that it inspires such fear in officers trained to serve and protect? Why are black boys never seen as victims? Never allowed to fear for their lives?

I am continuing this fight so that the legacy of Trayvon Martin’s life might well be that Kendrick and Leon received justice — despite the fact that George Zimmerman walked free.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.