Tuesday, October 23, 2007
By Brent Kallestad
The Associated Press
3:25 PM EDT, October 23, 2007
About 700 marchers shouted ``We shall overcome'' and ``No justice, no peace'' Tuesday to protest Florida's handling of a teenager's death after guards hit and kicked him at a state boot camp last year.
They want federal authorities to investigate what they allege are civil rights violations by camp staffers and others, including Florida's former top law enforcement official. The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the state's unsuccessful prosecution of the camp guards and a nurse.
``Lord, we need justice and we need it right now,'' Pastor Fred Maeweathers of the Shady Grove Mission Baptist Church of Ocala said in the opening prayer on the steps of the federal courthouse.
The 90-minute protest came less than two weeks after an all-white jury in Panama City acquitted seven camp guards and a nurse of manslaughter charges in the death of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old black inmate.
A videotape showed guards repeatedly hitting his limp body and the nurse standing by watching at the military-style camp in Bay County. Anderson died a day later, Jan. 6, 2006, at a Pensacola hospital.
Tallahassee mayor John Marks welcomed the protesters _ many of them busing in from South Florida in an all-night caravan _ and praised them for keeping the pressure on federal authorities to take up the case.
``Why are we here and not in Bay County,'' asked Carolyn Mosley, the NAACP chairwoman for Bay County. ``I think Bay County is still asleep.''
Many of the signs objected to the federal government going after Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick in a dogfighting case while the Anderson investigation awaits its attention.
``Kill a dog and go to jail. Kill a black child and get off free,'' one sign read.
``Where are all the dog lovers? Why are you not mad about this?'' another protested.
U.S. Attorney Gregory Miller and two Justice Department officials from Washington met with representatives from the NAACP's Florida branch for nearly two hours while protesters prayed, chanted and sang outside on a warm, muggy fall morning.
``They pretty much assured us that they have taken these types of cases seriously in the past and they are definitely taking this case seriously,'' NAACP attorney Chuck Hobbs said. ``They are going to make sure no stones are left unturned in the determination of the facts.''
After meeting with the NAACP, Miller and the representatives from the civil rights division and FBI met with Martin Lee Anderson's parents and their counsel.
Miller's office said ``if there is sufficient evidence to establish a prosecutable violation of any federal criminal civil rights statutes, appropriate action will be taken.'' But it declined further comment on an open investigation.
The NAACP-sponsored protest also targeted former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell. He was Bay County's sheriff when his office founded the camp and now works as an investigator for the state attorney's office in the area.
The civil rights organization wants Tunnell investigated for allegedly trying to prevent the videotape from being made public, making racist remarks related to the case and inappropriately communicating with current Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen about the death. The sheriff's office ran the now-defunct boot camp under state supervision.
NAACP officials also alleged Tunnell has committed other civil rights violations unrelated to Anderson's death. Joe Grammer, spokesman for State Attorney Steve Meadows, said Tunnell would not discuss the boot camp case because he is not authorized to speak to the media.