Dozens of community members and college students gathered on the steps of the federal courthouse in Tallahassee Friday, holding picket signs that read “Murder on TV,” and “Justice delayed is justice denied” as they waited and hoped that Martin Lee Anderson would finally get justice.
An hour and a half later, attorney Benjamin Crump emerged from the courthouse with Anderson’s parents, Gina Jones and Robert Anderson. Their faces showed that once again the family and attorneys would walk away dissatisfied.
There was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, wrongdoing by the guards to justify charging them,” Crump read from the findings of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S Justice Department.
The agency decided not to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against the Bay County Boot camp staff members involved in Anderson’s death in January 2006. The eight, including guards and a nurse, were acquitted f manslaughter during a 2007 state trial. Crump expressed confusion and frustration over the latest ruling.
The images on the video tell the story, he said.
“I saw him fall down; I saw the guards pick him up again and again as they continued to beat him, and he fell like a rag doll. I saw the nurse stand with her hands on her hips, not assisting in any way,” he said. “I watched the guards stuff ammonia tablets in his nose and how they held his head as he struggled to get breath, and I watched his body go limp. And like you, I knew he was dead.”
Crump, of the law firm Parks & Crump, said his office and Anderson’s family will continue to work toward overturning the decision to make sure those responsible for the 14-year-old’s death will be punished.
“No matter how much the government tries to wash their hands of this heinous crime,” Crump said, “the bloodstains of injustice will remain on the government hands until they hold the guards and the nurse accountable.”
Jones, Anderson’s mother, said she expected a different outcome and vowed to continue to fight.
“They say (the case is) closed, but it’s not closed. I’m going to make sure it stays open,” said Jones. “That was my baby. There was no reason for him to be beaten like that.”
The family sued Bay County and the state before reaching a $7.4 million settlement.
Safia Afify, a 21-year-old law school student at Florida State University, was studying criminology at FSU’s Panama City campus when Anderson died. Afify said the decision would not only affect the families involved but would also impact how the public views law enforcement in the future.
She said that moral conviction should motivate the public.
“If you watch the video and see seven people standing over (Anderson), you’d literally have to be blind to not act. I can’t even watch the video. I can’t imagine being there in person,” Afify said.
The attendance at Friday’s press conference was low compared to the 2,000 protestors who rallied at the Capitol building four years ago to demand the arrest of the officers and officials who they felt tried to cover up Anderson’s death.
Rodney Muhammad, 40, said he only found out about the press conference the previous day. He said the low media coverage was purposeful.
“They anticipated that (the students) would have graduated and gone, so there was not a lot of publicity. There was national media coverage four years ago, and they didn’t want that in Tallahassee,” Muhammad said. The race of the victim makes a difference in the kind of treatment the person gets, he said.
“When there’s no concern for black life, you won’t get any press,” he said. “But with a white life, you’ll always get press.”