Friday, April 21, 2006

COM: Boot Camp Comeuppance

Death at Florida Boot Camp Draws Thousands of Protesters
By LIZ BABIARZ, New York Times Regional Newspapers, The New York Times

TALLAHASSEE, April 21 — The death of a teenager at a Florida boot camp for young offenders last January drew hundreds of protesters to the state capital today, where they called on state officials to finish an investigation and charge those responsible.

The teenager, Martin Lee Anderson, died Jan. 6 after guards at a Panama City juvenile boot camp repeatedly kicked, kneed and choked him, in an incident caught by a security camera. No arrests have been made and no guards have been fired.

Wearing t-shirts comparing the 14-year-old to Emmett Till, students from Tallahassee's three colleges joined a march led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton. The march followed a two-day sit-in at the office of Gov. Jeb Bush.

Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton used the event to bring attention to other racially charged deaths across the United States and the need for blacks to be more vigilant in political matters.

"Today, we thank Martin," Mr. Jackson said. "His death made us come alive. When you stand up and fight back, you change the world."

Alongside the speakers were Anderson's parents, Gina Jones and Robert Anderson. The family and protestors have accused the authorities of trying to cover up the death.

Even though the videotape recorded the beating of the of Martin, the Bay County medical examiner ruled that he died of natural causes, complications of sickle cell trait, which is a typically benign blood disorder. The ruling outraged many blacks in Florida , who called on Governor Bush to order a second autopsy.

The family says the results of the second autopsy need to be released and charges should be filed.

"It shouldn't be taking this long," said Benjamin Crump, the family's attorney. "There is a cloud of suspicion over everything." The family also wants action taken against the medical examiner, Charles Siebert, and Guy Tunnell, who resigned Thursday as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement amid criticism of his handling of the case and recent comments he made about it. At one point he exchanged sympathetic e-mails with the Bay County sheriff, who ran the camp.

And more recently, at a meeting with agency heads at the Capitol, he compared the scheduled speakers at today's rally to Osama bin Laden and Jesse James

Mr. Sharpton said Mr. Tunnell's resignation doesn't take the place of prosecution. "Those roaches can start running, but we're going to keep marching until justice comes in this case," he said.

The protest began just before 9 a.m. Friday, as the crowd, estimated at about 1,500, moved from the Leon County Civic Center parking lot toward the Capitol.

"They're getting away with the murder of a child," said Charlene Howard-Gammage, president of the Florida State University chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. "Nobody is doing anything. They're just writing it off as another death."

Governor Bush, who met with Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Jackson after the rally, expressed sympathy for the family's frustrations and the protestors' demands. "If you talk to the mom and she says, 'Look, it's been 105 days since the death of my son, why can't this be done quicker?' I share her frustrations," said Mr. Bush, who met with the Anderson family Thursday. "But I also know this investigation has to be done as thoroughly as possible for the best possible end result."

Joe Follick contributed reporting from Tallahassee for this article. Liz Babiarz is a reporter with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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