Meeting under protest in Panama City, Fla., leaders of Florida’s largest black Baptist organization pledged to use the 2006 death of a 14-year-old African-American youth at a boot-camp style detention center to inspire new programs aimed at keeping young men out of trouble.
“We’re here because we want the family of Martin Lee Anderson and the nation to know we have not forgotten and we will not forget until we see justice flow,” Florida Social Justice Commission Chairman Walter Williams said Tuesday at a press conference between sessions of the Progressive Missionary and Educational Baptist State Convention of Florida.
The organization wanted to boycott the Panhandle county where an all-white jury acquitted drill instructors seen on a surveillance videotape manhandling the youth after he complained of breathing problems during a mandatory mile run on his first day at the Bay County Sheriff’s Boot Camp, but contracts had already been signed.
“There was much dialogue as to whether we should pull out, but we had signed legal documents and there would be legal repercussions for us,” the Rev. Brian K. Brown of St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Myers told the Associated Press.
Instead the convention decided to use the event to draw attention to what many viewed as an incident of racial injustice. That included calls for federal indictments.
“We know right is right, and we know what we saw, so as long as it takes we will pursue justice for the family for young Martin’s legacy,” Carolyn Mosley of the Bay County NAACP said, according to NBC News Channel 7. “We will not forget.”
Williams said on a convention Web site the purpose of the press conference was “to send a message to the city, state and nation expressing our dissatisfaction with the actions of the officers involved in the Martin Lee Anderson murder, the response of the court system (judged not guilty), and the tolerance of the city with regard to the lack of safety, injustice, and total disregard for the life of all its citizens.”
Convention President Bartholomew Banks proposed a mentoring and after-school program to “give our young men the tools they need to succeed.”
“We have a responsibility to make our community better,” Banks said, according to the Panama City News Herald.
An video shot Jan. 5, 2006, shows guards throwing Anderson to the ground, kneeing him and pinning him down as other guards and a camp nurse looked on. The youth was taken to a hospital at the end of a 30-minute altercation that left him unconscious, but it was too late. He died a day later.
An autopsy said Anderson died from an undiagnosed sickle-cell blood disorder that prevented his lungs from taking in enough oxygen, and nothing could have been done to prevent his death.
After the videotape became public and aired on the Internet and television stations, however, authorities had his body exhumed. A second autopsy determined that Anderson suffocated when drill instructors clamped his mouth shut and stuck ammonia capsules up his nose in an effort to get him to respond.
Seven camp guards and the nurse were charged with manslaughter. An all-white jury acquitted all eight defendants–five of whom were white, two black and one Asian–on Oct. 12, 2006. Two weeks later hundreds protested in Tallahassee shouting, “We shall overcome.”
Protest signs objected to the federal government going after Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in a dog-fighting case while not acting on an Anderson investigation. “Kill a dog and go to jail,” one sign reportedly read. “Kill a black child and get off free.”
Anderson was two hours into his first day at the camp, a medium-security facility for juvenile offenders, where he was sent for violating probation he received after taking a joy ride in his grandmother’s car.
“I thought maybe he’d go in and do his time and come out and be a 14-year-old kid,” the boy’s father, Robert Anderson, told ABC News. “But it didn’t turn out that way.”
Five months after the not-guilty verdicts, leaders of the Progressive M&E Baptist State Convention said Tuesday they still were not satisfied.
“In spite of the pain we feel, we will not be traumatized to the extent that our silence be mistaken for social amnesia,” Williams said in video aired on WJHG.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.