Sierra Campbell, 21, joined the more than 200 students in an impromptu protest Friday because she was frustrated with what she called “discrimination” in the Martin Lee Anderson verdict.
“I won’t be a victim of discrimination, but it seems like you have no control over what they do,” said the second year pre-pharmacy candidate from Hollywood, Fla. “They take us as a joke; I won’t be anyone’s joke.”
What started as an organized peaceful march to the capitol Friday, after the verdict in the controversial Martin Lee Anderson case was released, ended in civil disobedience.
A jury of all-white citizens in Panama City found the seven drill instructors and the nurse, who were charged in the case, not guilty.
Students from Florida A&M University, Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College protested the verdict.
There was a short demonstration in front of the Florida Capitol when the marchers arrived. Senators, legislators and past and present student government leaders spoke to the crowd of students.
From a squeaky megaphone legislators addressed the gathering of protestors huddled around the capitol’s courtyard.
“Today we hang our heads in shame…today the judiciary system worked against us,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner.
Joyner said that the fight and the struggle never end and shared how the spirit of protest was an extension of her generation too.
“I marched in this very county 44 years and not much has changed,” Joyner said.
“I never dreamed that 44 years ago I’d be back here fighting again.”
Sen. Al Lawson, who was also in attendance commented on the protest.
“Through your efforts the family will have received some sort of justice,” Lawson said.
Other senators who spoke assured protestors that a federal investigation would be launched.
The Student Coalition for Justice gathered next to the capitol and decided that simply marching was not enough.
Sakeena Gohagan, a member of the coalition said she felt members of the legislature were just trying to appease protestors for the time being.
“At this point, nothing has really been done, they just keep telling us to keep writing letters [to congressman and senators] and peaceably marching, but no real action has taken place,” Gohagan said. “They’re just trying to pacify us…a federal investigation has already launched and closed, we lost.”
Gohagan said that students are the heart of Tallahassee and the city would not see any type of peace until justice is served.
Vanessa Baden, 22, an FSU student, and one of the leaders of the coalition said that the coalition would take measures to make sure that they were heard.
“An investigation began two years ago… they have no intentions of bringing these people up on charges,” Baden said. “The time for diplomacy is over, marching is fun but to move people we have to disrupt…we are going to disrupt the flow of business on Monroe and Apalachee.”
At around 5 p.m. that is exactly what the students did.
But before doing so, there was an announcement directed at pharmacy students who were in attendance.
Erin Laffney, 22, a fifth year pharmacy student from Jacksonville, said she called Henry Lewis III, dean of the college of pharmacy, and he strongly advised pharmacy students against getting involved in the blockading of the street.
“He said that in order to block off a street, you’re required to have a permit from the Sheriff’s department,” Laffney said. “You can’t have charges on your record if you want to receive a license to practice.”
Although there was some concern from students in professional programs, Ashley Nelson, 20, a junior pharmacy student from Miami, was determined to make a difference no matter what.
“I’m angry and well aware [of the consequences],” Nelson said. “I can go into any field, but I’m black everyday and sick and tired of the system, so I’m going out here to disrupt their system.” Students marched down Monroe Street chanting ‘Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”
More than 100 students assembled in a circle blocking the entire intersection and then sat down in the street.
Police arrived shortly after and began re-routing traffic away from the area.
The tension was high as Mayor John Marks, FAMU’s president James Ammons, and senators continuously tried to calm the rambunctious protestors.
Ammons urged students to consider their future aspirations.
“Occupying this street won’t bring justice,” Ammons said. “You’re just putting yourself and your future in jeopardy.”
Lawson added his plea to that of Ammons’.
This doesn’t solve anything, we just want to make sure nobody gets in trouble,” Lawson said.
James Bland, student body vice president, said he felt a bit conflicted over the situation.
“I feel like I’m in a tug-of-war,” Bland said. “As an individual I want to stand up for what I believe in, but as the vice president [of FAMU’s student body] I have a job to do in assisting Dr. Ammons and making sure the students are safe.”
After admonitions from senators and university officials, protestors broke out into a ‘hell no, we won’t go’ chant and headed down Monroe to block another intersection.
Arm in arm, protestors walked from the intersection of Apalachee and Monroe, stopping between Park Street and Call Street to regroup. Organizers advised everyone to link together and move forward.
While chanting and hoisting posters of Martin Lee Anderson, students marched forward.
Police surrounded every outlet and continued to direct traffic, as protestors reached the intersection of Tennessee and Monroe and sat in tight groups, clapping, shouting and chanting.
“I started having flashbacks about Jena 6, the black women in West Virginia [Megan Williams], it’s time to show the public we’re not playing,” Campbell said.
Members of the coalition said that they wanted to take advantage of the fervor of the protestors and were prepared to go to jail if it came down to it.
“They dictate where we march, when we march, I say no more we are the people,” said Dre, a member of the coalition.
At around 6 p.m., and after much negotiation between city officials, members of the coalition and the city’s police department, it was decided that protestors would reconvene Friday, at a location to be announced, and grant the U.S. Attorney General a week to respond to their questions regarding the verdict.
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