Attorney Ben Crump shares vision of hope at NSU crime forum: ‘Our future is so bright’

·4 min read

Norfolk State University students showed in force Saturday morning to hear attorney Ben Crump, who most notably represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, speak about the issue of crime in the United States alongside local leaders.

Crump decried the the common refrain that a white mass shooter is “mentally ill” while a Black man who steals a car is labeled a “thug.” He also highlighted the way the opioid epidemic is talked about as a mental health issue while the crack cocaine epidemic was treated as a criminal issue. He emphasized that “crime is crime” and that, to stop the cycle of Black people falling into the wrong path, they need someone to believe in them.

“We have to tell our people, every time we see them, that we still believe in them and that we won’t let their existence on this earth be defined by a racist criminal justice system who is targeting Black and brown people every day,” Crump said.

“We have to make sure, whether our children are Black, white or brown, are well-armed with intelligence and that they are more intelligent than those that would seek to oppress them.”

Addressing the young faces in the crowd, Crump said they are the reason he and Norfolk’s leaders are fighting for a world where Taylor can “sleep in peace,” where George Floyd can “take another breath,” and where Arbery “can run free.”

“There’s never ever a wrong time to talk about doing the wrong thing ... let’s keep talking about the right things to do in Norfolk, Virginia,” Crump said. “Our future is so bright, I have to strain my eyes when I look at you all.”

The forum, “A Conversation on Justice in America,” was part of NBA referee and downtown Norfolk business owner Tony Brothers’ annual Men for Hope Celebrity Weekend. In addition to Crump and Brothers making remarks, Interim Police Chief Michael Goldsmith provided an update on what Norfolk police are doing to address crime locally.

Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer and Portsmouth Commonwealth Attorney Stephanie Morales also attended, as did several school board and city council members from across Hampton Roads.

Brothers, who is working toward a master’s degree in public administration at Norfolk State, said in an interview he wanted the event to be a “reset” for the city after the Aug. 5 shooting outside Legacy Restaurant & Lounge, which is down the block from his restaurant — Brothers. He and other downtown business owners have been involved in meetings with city leadership to address crime, and he’s happy with the progress they’ve made.

“In a lot of instances it’s believed now that ‘Black is bad, it’s not about the bad actors it’s about a race of people,’ because all people are hearing and seeing is an incident or a shooting on TV and it’s at a Black establishment and so it’s almost like our people are bad,” Brothers told the audience, describing his motivation for working with city leadership on this issue.

In his remarks, Goldsmith said the city may further utilizing drones to deter violence downtown by letting would-be criminals know they’re being watched from the sky. But laws against using drones above crowds, Federal Aviation Authority regulations and some privacy laws would need to be loosened for that to be fully implemented.

Brothers said he hopes the state leaders who attended the forum, including Virginia Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, can help get movement on these regulations at the state level.

Narenzo Fleors, a freshman political science major and aspiring attorney, said he counts Crump among his role models. Fleors, who is from Detroit, said he felt stereotyped as a “bad kid” who was destined for jail when he was younger, but the truth was he was misled and didn’t have the right support system.

“For someone with that status to come here and actually speak to us in person, it actually motivates me to go out and try to be someone who leads our community in the right direction,” Floers said. “It’s kind of hard trying to distinguish between doing what’s right, following your passion and just making money, so that’s the thing I was trying to figure out, and I think Ben put his stamp on it. He’s always doing what’s right.”

Following the crime forum, Sentara held a forum on healthy living. Truist Bank hosted an event on financial literacy. Truist also gave away $1,000 student accounts to 10 lucky enrolled students who attended the event to use for the fall semester.

Gavin Stone, gavin.stone@virginiamedia.com