Benjamin Crump and Michele Rayner kickoff Legacy Week with virtual program

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump headlined 2021 Legacy Week. Pictured here at Greater Mt. Zion AME last February

BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer

ST PETERSBURG – The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) kicked off its annual Legacy Week on Monday with the Legacy Lecture, featuring Tallahassee’s renowned civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and District 70 Representative Michele Rayner.

Crump has spent recent years representing the families of victims in several high-profile police violence cases – including those of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Stephon Clark and Michael Brown. He also represented the family of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, killed by neighborhood-watch-vigilante-turned-murderer George Zimmerman.

During the event, Crump was in Ohio with Andre Hill’s family, the 47-year-old Black man who was tragically killed by police three days before Christmas, shot while walking out his garage holding a cell phone. Crump and the family were celebrating on Feb. 1 after the Columbus City Council unanimously approved Andre’s Law, requiring police officers to turn on their body-worn cameras and render first aid after a use of force incident.

“We’re still fighting — it’s one day at a time,” Crump stated, acknowledging his hectic schedule in light of the series of tragic and traumatic cases. “We have to speak up for our people, stand up for our people, and fight for our people because if we don’t do it, we can’t expect nobody else to do it.”

Crump went on to say he was extremely proud of Rep. Rayner, who worked alongside him while representing the family of Clearwater resident Markeis McGlockton, who Michael Drejka killed in 2018.

Rayner, a civil rights attorney who became District 70’s representative this year – stating that she won her race through a “people-powered campaign” — is also one of the first openly LGBTQ women of color elected to Florida’s Legislature.

Rayner shared the work she’s doing in Tallahassee, including serving on the Justice Appropriations committee, which focuses on the funding of criminal and civil justice and health care through the Health and Human Services subcommittee.

“So, you know, obviously we have a pandemic that’s going on, and it’s disproportionately affecting Black and Brown folks, and economically disadvantaged communities. We have a lot of questions about how the vaccine is being distributed to our people.”

Rayner just finished a vaccine distribution in Manatee County that served more than 500 predominantly African American and Latinx senior citizens and medical professionals.

She said she was also preparing to review the HB1 bill – the DeSantis “Protest Bill,” which seeks to put limits on a city’s ability to redirect funds from the police to social programs, makes it a felony to destroy any Confederate memorial statue and upgrades penalties for illegal actions during “riots.”

However, considering DeSantis drafted the legislature in response to Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s murder, the bill is questionable. Social justice activists realize that it can impact lawful assembly.

Rayner said, “We believe that the bill that is targeting Black and Brown folks, especially; it was birthed after the George Floyd murder. And, I guess that some folks in our government felt that it was the most appropriate use of action to try to stop our voices from being heard and speaking truth to power.”

Legacy Week founder Rev. J.C. Pritchett queried Crump on his thoughts on unifying the nation after the police murders and the Jan. 6 assault on the capitol.

“It seemed like last year, 2020, everything shut down in America except racism and police brutality,” Crump noted. “But how we heal the nation is by making sure we go optimistic, with hope in our heart at the new leadership of people like President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, State Representative Michele Rayner — people who are going to be responsive, to say, ‘America, we can do better, we can have a more just America.’”

He went on to say that this meant assuring there would be “a more just America where Briana Taylor gets to sleep in peace at night without the Louisville Metropolitan Police executing a No Knock warrant and putting six bullets in her body.

“A more just America where George Floyd gets an opportunity to take a breath without being bludgeoned to death with a knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

“A more just America where Ahmaud Arbery gets to run free and not be lynched for jogging while Black — and a more just America where Andre Hill gets to walk out of a garage holding a cell phone and not have four bullets pumped in his body.

“Or Jacob Blake — who’s running away from the police — be seen as a threat and shot seven times in the back point-blank range in Kenosha, Wis., in front of his three babies, his sons that are in the car.”

Crump also noted that a more just America means equal justice rather than an America where white nationalists who attacked the U.S. Capitol building did not experience “pepper spray, or tear gas or even [get] arrested like our Black Lives Matter activists.”

Rayner continued, “There can be no unity without accountability. And when I say that, I don’t just mean an acknowledgment of what occurred, but a rectifying of what occurred. And when we think about rectifying, we’re thinking about legislation that is passed to make our country more equitable.”

In response to Pritchett’s question on what gave her hope for the future, Rayner ended by saying, “I think IMA and the work that you’re doing makes me hopeful. Because you’re able to not only bring allies together, but then also speak truth to power to those allies, and then call them to come higher.”

Pritchett said of the event, “It was important to lift up voices that have committed their gifts, skills and abilities to fight for social justice. Legacy Week highlights people that make a difference.”

For more information on Legacy Week, visit ima-sp.com.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com

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