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April 21, 2006 - Bradenton Herald (FL)

Jackson, Sharpton Lead March To Protest Boot Camp Death

By Andrea Fanta, Associated Press

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Hundreds of college students joined the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for a march Friday on the Capitol to protest the death of a teenager after he had been repeatedly struck and kneed by guards at a juvenile boot camp in Panama City.

Martin Lee Anderson, 14, was the third young black male to die in state custody in the past three years. His death in January came a day after guards were videotaped kicking, dragging and kneeing him at the Panama City camp. The guards were black and white.

A medical examiner found the death was caused by complications from sickle cell trait, a usually benign blood disorder. But his family said the altercation with the guards caused his death. A second autopsy is being done.

His family was in the crowd that gathered at Tallahassee's civic center where the march began, a day after the state's top law enforcement officer resigned amid criticism over his handling of the death investigation and derogatory comments he made comparing Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Students held pictures of the boy and his funeral casket and sang "justice delayed is justice denied" and "this is what democracy looks like." Sharpton and Jackson held hands with his parents Gina Jones and Robert Anderson as they silently walked toward the Capitol. Jones cried when she saw the pictures.

One of the student leaders screamed into a microphone as he stood on the steps of the Old Capitol building: "We'll be back if you don't act" and "Gov. Bush, this is not a test."

The chants echoed from three different directions as students from Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College converged at the civic center for the march that lasted several hours. By midday, most of the crowd had dispersed.

Bush later asked Sharpton and Jackson to meet with him in his office, where the three held hands in prayer.

The march began hours after a group of students ended a two-day sit-in outside Bush's office [demanding] the resignation of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell.

Tunnell compared Obama to bin Laden and Jackson to the outlaw Jesse James at a meeting of department heads, according to the governor's office and FDLE. On Friday, he apologized.

"My attempt at humor was ill-conceived, ill-timed, and inappropriate, and was not intended to be disrespectful to any individual or group," Tunnell said in a written statement.

"We've come to Florida because a boy was killed not because somebody called us names," Sharpton said in response.

Tunnell had started the boot camp when he was Bay County's sheriff and his agency was investigating the death until it was taken off the case by a special prosecutor appointed by Bush.

During the investigation, Tunnell sent e-mails to the present sheriff that criticized those who questioned the effectiveness of the boot camp concept.

Bush said he did not ask Tunnell to resign, but said perceptions were more likely the reason for the resignation, rather then the joke Tunnell made. Tunnell went to the Gov.'s Mansion late Thursday to resign.

"I think it was probably a cumulative thing to be honest with you," Bush said. "The e-mail question as it related in the matter of this young child was inappropriate. He recognized that and it put the agency in a difficult situation."

The students ended their sit-in Thursday night after Anderson's parents met with Bush for the first time since their son's death in January.

The parents have criticized the governor and state officials for what they say is a cover-up of the events leading to their son's death. They left Thursday's meeting saying they were satisfied at finally being able to express their grief to Bush.

"Hopefully justice will be served soon," Jones said.

The parents are focused on obtaining results from the second autopsy, their attorney said.

In the first autopsy, Dr. Charles Siebert ruled the boy died of complications from sickle cell trait, a usually benign blood disorder. Anderson's parents, the student protesters and the Legislature's black caucus have called on Bush to revoke Siebert's license because they don't agree with his finding. Siebert has repeatedly stood by his findings, saying they were based on reliable science, not emotions. He also said he was being unfairly attacked by special interest groups.

Bush sent a letter Thursday asking State Attorney Mark Ober to investigate deleted e-mails belonging to the initial state investigator, who recused himself from the case because of personal ties. State Attorney Steve Meadows has said the e-mails were deleted unintentionally. Bush appointed Ober as special prosecutor to investigate the case.

The governor returned from a state trip to the Middle East on Wednesday to find the students outside his office. It was the second time protesters have gathered there during his administration. Six years ago, two black legislators staged a sit-in to protest his elimination of affirmative action in university admissions and state contracts.

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