“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 criminal case against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes. Between these two scenes, Hallgren shows a series of civil cases Crump is currently working on, as well as the past cases that made him so well known. Previous clients include the families of Breonna Taylor, Mike Brown, and Trayvon Martin. All of these deceased Black people have something in common. It is truly disquieting that Crump keeps showing up on TV to represent case after similar case; he’s a ubiquitous fixture in a flawed justice system. However, shooting cases only take up 5-10% of his law firm’s case load.
“Before Trayvon Martin, nobody cared about Black people getting shot,” says Crump as he acknowledges the mistakes he made in that case: “Trayvon prepared me for George Floyd.” Though “CIVIL” documents, among other things, a case of banking while Black and another suit brought by farmers against Monsanto, it’s Floyd’s case that haunts the film. Thankfully, Hallgren avoids showing any footage of his last moments, opting instead to show scenes from the worldwide movement his death inspired. There are also clips of a Fox News anchor calling Crump “the most dangerous man in America” and blaming him for racism.
Several times, Crump clarifies that he’s a civil attorney, not a criminal one, and therefore cannot prosecute anyone for breaking the law. Instead, he feels a financial settlement may be the only justice his clients will get. He has 25 years of experience working in this vein. “CIVIL” shows commercials from Crump’s early days as a personal injury lawyer or “rent lawyer” as he called his position. “We took whatever case that would pay the rent,” he tells us. When pressed about criticism (some of it from Black people) that a focus on monetary compensation is shallow and distasteful, 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 life” shook me to my pessimistic, cynical core.