Sunday, October 14, 2007

Acquittals in boot camp death ignite protests

October 13, 2007
By Brent Kallestad

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Justice was denied when the defendants in the Martin Lee Anderson manslaughter trial were acquitted in Panama City by a jury that needed only 90 minutes to decide, black lawmakers said Friday.

The acquittals ignited street protests in the capital that disrupted rush hour traffic.

By mid-afternoon, about 200 people — many from the historically black Florida A&M University nearby — were protesting the acquittals outside the Capitol, about 120 miles from Panama City.

Protestors walk arm in arm down a Tallahassee street
protesting the verdict in the Martin Lee Anderson case
on Friday.

The group then moved to a busy downtown intersection and sat down in the street, disrupting traffic.

"No justice. No peace!" they chanted.

The group first ignored pleas to not block traffic from two of the community's black leaders, Tallahassee Mayor John Marks and Florida A&M President James Ammons.

"I ain't going nowhere," responded Danyell Shackelford, a 23-year-old Florida State University student and Army veteran who served in Kuwait. "That's not what you sent me to war for."

But later, facing the prospect of arrests for blocking traffic, the protesters agreed to disband, but with a condition.

"Give them one week for the United States attorney to meet with us," FAMU student Phillip Agnew, 22, of Chicago told the protesters. "And give us a timeline for when some charges will be filed — or we will be back."

Black lawmakers in town for special sessions on a budget cut and property taxes, were upset that no blacks were included on the jury.

"All white jury. Why in Bay County?" asked Rep. Joyce Cusack, D-DeLand. "One of the most prejudiced areas in this state and I don't apologize for saying that. Here we are in the year 2007 that we still, we still are not treated fairly and with dignity."

Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, echoed the comments.

"I didn't think that you could get a conviction in Bay County, and my assumption was correct," he said.

"It's almost if they've declared open season on black boys in Florida," state Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, said.

"Ninety minutes of deliberation for a child's life, a child who we saw beaten to death on videotape over and over again?" asked Wilson. "That's un-American. That is racist, discriminatory, bigotry."

However, officials from the Department of Justice in Washington and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida announced they were reviewing the state's prosecution.

"I certainly hope there will be another option," said Rep. Frank Peterman Jr., D-St. Petersburg. "A higher court of law will judge this case at another level (so) that we will get real justice that will happen really soon."

Gov. Charlie Crist said he had already been informed by the Justice Department that it plans to review the case.

The Legislature, with Crist's encouragement, agreed to pay Anderson's family $5 million earlier this year to settle civil claims.

"I don't know what type of message that Bay County is trying to send to the state of Florida and to the rest of the country, but certainly this is not justice," said Rep. Terry Fields, D-Jacksonville.

"Poor Martin, there's no justice for him," Wilson added. "I'm just hoping the federal government now will take over the case, do further investigation because his civil rights and everything else was abridged in this."