Monday, October 15, 2007

FSU students documenting Anderson case

By S. Brady Calhoun


The tentative title is “Beating Justice: The Martin Lee Anderson Story.”

An associate professor at Florida State University and a handful of students have been filming footage for a documentary on the boot camp case, recording events outside and inside the courtroom.

“We’ve been working on it, really, since the story broke,” said Andy Opal, director of media production and an associate professor at FSU.

Opal said the documentary focuses on the role of the videotape in the case — which has been shown nationally by many media outlets — and the Tallahassee student activists who marched, sat in at the governor’s office and worked hard to keep the case in the public square.

There have been other deaths in Florida’s boot camp system, but none attracted the media and created changes like Anderson’s.

“This attention wasn’t there,” Opal said. “I think that is largely because the visual evidence wasn’t there.”

Opal said the Anderson story has parallels to the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles in 1992 and the University of Florida student who recently was Tasered by police at a John Kerry event. The rise of Americans videotaping one another is a societal change that needs to be documented, Opal said. He noted that it was government employees who taped the boot camp incident, not members of the public.

“It’s an interesting shift that is going on culturally,” Opal said. “Who will watch the watchers? … Well, citizens will watch the watchers.”

Opal said he was fascinated by the way defense attorneys at the trial changed the interpretation of the boot camp tape.

“It is not as open and shut a case as the visual evidence might suggest,” Opal said last week before the jury’s not-guilty verdict.

Anderson’s story touches on several problems in American society, he said.

“It’s a story of race and class in the judicial justice system,” Opal said. “I think it speaks to our larger justice system in this country, which has a serious element of bias, but it is more a class bias than race bias.”

Bill Lawson, 29, a graduate student, also is working on the project.

One of the most powerful moments Lawson has recorded so far is an interview with a Miami Herald reporter, he recalled. The reporter turned to the camera and said, “Can you stop evil from happening in the world? No.”

Then, the reporter told Lawson that it is the way in which the society deals with an issue that determines the health of that society.

Lawson said the student activism was “absolutely amazing.” People Lawson’s age and younger typically are apathetic about serious issues, he said.

“If it weren’t for the student activists, this issue would have been swept under the table,” Lawson said. “To see students pick up issues and stick with them … that gave me hope. That gave me a little bit of hope.”

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