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Civil rights attorney Ben Crump may be best known for representing the families of Tyre Nichols, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery.
In Springfield, Crump has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Earl Moore Jr.'s family and estate against two emergency medical service workers and the company that employed them.
But one of the loudest ovations during Crump's address Sunday at the Lincoln-Douglass Freedom Fund Banquet, sponsored by the Springfield Branch of the NAACP, was his remarks about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has railed against an Advanced Placement African American Studies course being taught in state classrooms.
"We told Gov. DeSantis we're not going to let him prohibit the teaching of Black history," said Crump, a Florida resident who has threatened a lawsuit against DeSantis, a possible 2024 Republican presidential candidate. "(Florida education officials) understand how powerful education is, even today. They get it.
"The reason we have to teach Black history in all of the classrooms, it's not just for the Black students, but it's for the white students and the brown students and the red students.
"I refuse to let Gov. DeSantis exterminate Black history. I refuse to let anybody exterminate Black history because Black history is American history."
DeSantis was scheduled to address the Fraternal Order of Police in Elmhurst Monday, fueling a political rivalry with Gov. JB Pritzker, who also has been mentioned as a presidential aspirant. Pritzker tweeted last week that DeSantis’ "dangerous and hateful agenda has no place in Illinois."
During his keynote presented as a legal argument, Crump pounded the importance of education, using quotes from Booker T. Washington, Medgar Evers and Thurgood Marshall to back up the notion that "knowledge was power."
"We can never, ever, ever let our children underestimate the value of education," Crump said.
Crump also pointed out members of Moore's family, including Moore's mother, Rosena Washington, in the crowd at the Crowne Plaza and thanked Sangamon County State's Attorney Dan Wright "for doing the right thing" in filing first-degree murder charges against Peggy Jill Finley and Peter Cadigan, both of Springfield, last month.
"We are grateful, the Earl Moore family and many in the community are grateful that (Wright) went forth and charged these individuals to show Earl Moore's life mattered," Crump told The State Journal-Register after the banquet. "Even though (Finley and Cadigan) offered him no humanity, the State recognized the humanity in all of its citizens, especially Earl Moore and the way he was treated on that video."
Moore, who was Black, died early on Dec. 18 from compression and positional asphyxia, according to a forensic pathologist.
The State has alleged Finley and Cadigan strapped Moore tightly to a gurney and then slammed his face into the prone position, which is how he was transported to HSHS St. John's Hospital. Footage from body cameras worn by three Springfield Police officers was released to the public.
Crump also applauded legislation proposed by State Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, that would require all EMS workers to wear body cameras while responding to calls and for all service vehicles to be equipped with dash cameras.
Turner, who attended the banquet, has said Moore's death was an "impetus" for the legislation.
"I think it's helpful (for EMS workers to get body cams) because what you want is for people to be at their best when they engage the citizens," Crump added. "It has always been the belief that if you knew you were going to be watched that you would not disregard just the Constitutional rights but the human rights of citizens, no matter what race or ethnicity they were."
As for the civil lawsuit, Crump hoped the case could be specially set. Crump said his team is waiting on a response from LifeStar, the ambulance service which then employed Finley and Cadigan, to the lawsuit.
"It is a very important case, not only for Earl Moore's family but for this community," Crump said.
Teresa Haley, the president of the Springfield branch of the NAACP and its state director, said she extended an invitation to Crump in December 2021 to speak at the banquet, predating the Moore case by a year.
Haley said she got to know Crump in the aftermath of the Martin shooting in Florida a decade ago.
"We called him the next Johnnie Cochran," Haley said, "and I told him this morning, 'You made Johnnie proud. He's looking down on you and saying, 'Well done. Continue to work.'"
Haley said Crump waived an honorarium to be in Springfield all day long "and then to have to fly out, it says a lot about his character. It says a lot about his caring. It says a lot about his compassion."
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump gets a standing ovation at the Springfield NAACP banquet, calling out Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis for his stance on the teaching of Black history. #SJRbreaking pic.twitter.com/qbWAmg7Cn2
— Steven Spearie (@StevenSpearie) February 19, 2023
Awards also were presented during the banquet. Educator and author Nell R. Clay received the Webster Plaque.
Darnell "Don" Pettford, owner of Genesis Barber Shop on East Cook Street, received the business award.
The community service award went to volunteer Deborah Grant. Longtime District 186 teacher and administrator Alicia Miller received the education award.
The Rev. T. Ray McJunkins, lead pastor at Union Baptist Church, received the religious award.
Contact Steven Spearie: (217) 622-1788, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump addresses Springfield NAACP