“CIVIL” opens with Crump in silhouette, taking the call for his services from a relative of Floyd. It ends with his reaction to the guilty verdicts in the criminal case against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. Between these two scenes, Hallgren shows a series of civil cases that Crump is currently working on, as well as the past cases that made him so famous. Previous clients include the families of Breonna Taylor, Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin. All of these dead black people have something in common. It is truly disturbing that Crump continues to appear on television to portray similar case after case; it is a pervasive element in a flawed justice system. However, shooting cases represent only 5-10% of his law firm’s workload.
“Before Trayvon Martin, nobody cared about black people getting shot,” Crump says, acknowledging the mistakes he made in this case: “Trayvon groomed me for George Floyd.” Although “CIVIL” documents, among other things, a banking case while Black and another lawsuit brought by farmers against Monsanto, it is the Floyd case that haunts the film. Fortunately, Hallgren avoids showing footage of his final moments, choosing instead to show scenes of the global movement inspired by his death. There are also clips of a Fox News anchor calling Crump “the most dangerous man in America” and blaming him for racism.
On several occasions, Crump clarifies that he is a civil attorney, not a criminal attorney, and therefore cannot sue anyone for breaking the law. Instead, he thinks a financial settlement may be the only justice his clients will get. He has 25 years of experience in this field. “CIVIL” shows ads from Crump’s early days as a personal injury attorney, or “rent attorney,” as he called his job. “We took any case that would pay the rent,” he tells us. When pressed to criticize (some of it from black people) that the focus on monetary compensation is superficial and unpalatable, Crump is unapologetic. While I understood his explanation that people should be held accountable, his comment that “$1-3 million is the going rate for black lives” shook me to my pessimistic and cynical heart.