After a student coalition held three marches and placed civic pressure on Florida lawmakers, eight former employees of the Bay County Sheriff’s Department were arrested on charges of aggravated manslaughter.
Student Government Association officials from Florida A&M University, Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College formed the Student Coalition for Justice for 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson.
This was done in an effort to bring attention to the Jan. 6 death of Anderson, who was killed just hours after he was sent to a Panama City boot camp for joyriding in his grandmother’s car.Several student government leaders from FSU, TCC and FAMU, as well members of the Congressional Black Caucus, met with state Sens. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, and Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, in February in an effort to bring national and international attention to the case.
“We’re still not done. A little boy was murdered at the hands of criminals, and until these criminals are locked away, we will not be satisfied,” former FAMU student body president Ramon Alexander said in response to the arrests. “The criminal system is playing itself, and we pray that in the end, justice will be served.”
Though the arrests were a long time coming, Alexander said, it was still progress in what he called “a very politicized case” and an attempted cover-up.
One reason Alexander said he thinks the case was politicized is because Charlie Crist, the state’s attorney general at the time, is now the governor-elect.
The sit-in that was held in Gov. Bush’s office April 19, was expected to be held in Crist’s office in an effort to pressure him to meet with Anderson’s family and force justice to be served in the Anderson case.
However, Crist briefly met with Anderson’s family a few days before the planned sit-in, to the surprise of members of the coalition.
“I thought it was a good step to diffuse some potential harmful things from happening to Crist. He wanted to save face so it wouldn’t hurt him politically,” said Gregory Woodall, 20, a junior physics student from Atlanta and member of the coalition. “I think he is a politician, so his timing was political and very strategic. To the public he appears to attack the issue before it becomes a problem.”
The coalition originally consisted of 13 students from the three colleges and had five FAMU students: Alexander, Woodall, Phillip B. Agnew, Monique Gillum and Whitney Murray. Agnew and Gillum are the SGA president and vice-president at FAMU while Murray, 20, is a junior political science student from Jacksonville.
Agnew said it was important for the coalition to consist of people across class, racial and collegiate lines to show there was not a small constituency of students displeased with the conduct of various members of Bay County law enforcement.
“I think we are starting to see progress,” Woodall said. “It was a good move and it was a good step in eradicating the institutions in which this young man died. There are a lot more effective ways in handling so-called troubled youths than military-styled boot camps.”
The Florida legislature has agreed with Woodall’s sentiments. In June, Bush signed into law the Martin Lee Anderson Act, which eliminates military-style boot camps in Florida and “defines and prohibits ‘harmful psychological intimidation techniques’ ” within the Juvenile Justice department.
House Bill 5019 was filed March 31, 19 days before the coalition’s sit-in and 21 days before the coalition-led march on the Capitol, however, the 35-page bill was not signed into law until June 1.
A possible next goal for the coalition is the removal of the trial for the eight people arrested from Bay County because of inability to find a partial jury.
“I don’t think anything we’ve seen in Bay County has shown there could be a fair and just trial,” Agnew said. Racism would not be Agnew’s basis for petitioning for a change of venue, but rather because he said many people in the community have preconceived notions about the case.
The coalition said it is not asking for any special privileges, instead a fair trial in the death of Anderson will suffice.”All people are created equal. When you murder people they deserve the same opportunity for justice as anyone else in America,” Alexander said.