AS NAACP RESPONDS, FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SAYS IT WILL REVIEW VERDICT IN MARTIN LEE ANDERSON CASE

NAACP leaders are dismayed by today’s verdict in the January 2006 boot camp death of Martin Lee Anderson and the civil rights organization is appealing to the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal officials for intervention. 

“Although we respect the decision and service of the jurors, there continue to be troubling facets of this case that compel us to press the federal government to exercise its higher authority to protect the constitutional rights of Martin Lee Anderson and all African Americans who increasingly view their safety and lives as devalued by the criminal justice system and by American society,” said NAACP Interim President & CEO Dennis Courtland Hayes.

The NAACP is encouraged that the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida have announced they will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence, including the state trial transcripts, and take appropriate action if the evidence indicates a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes. 

“The Department of Justice has yet another opportunity, unfortunately, to demonstrate to America’s minority populations that law enforcement officials acting outside the laws of this nation will be held accountable, that the misdeeds of a few rogue officers won’t be allowed to tarnish the good work of the vast majority and that any guilty officers’ conduct will be strongly scrutinized and met with remedial action rather than a wink and a nod,” Hayes added.

Anderson, 14, collapsed on the exercise yard two hours after arriving at the Bay County Sheriff’s Camp. Guards said the teen was uncooperative and refused to continue participating in exercises that were part of the camp's intake processes. He died early the next morning at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.

“This is very devastating and a sad day for all Americans,” Florida NAACP State Conference President and NAACP National Board of Directors member Adora Obi Nweze said of the verdict. “There’s an all out assault on our children and nobody is crying out loud enough on their behalf. The NAACP will not stop until justice is won for Martin Lee Anderson and all the others who have suffered at the hands of law enforcement.”

A report from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released yesterday underscores the NAACP and others’ concern.  Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia reported 2,002 arrest-related deaths during the three years from 2003 through 2005. Homicides by state and local law enforcement officers were the leading cause of such deaths during that time. Most persons who died while being arrested were men (96 percent) between the ages of 18 and 44 (77 percent).  Approximately 44 percent were white; 32 percent, African American; 20 percent Hispanic and 4 percent of other or multiple races.

The data is the first national measure of all types of arrest-related deaths under a new program mandated by the federal Death in Custody Reporting Act. The statute directed all states to report deaths during arrests as a condition of eligibility for receiving federal correctional grants.

Rough handling of Anderson by guards was videotaped, sparking protests, resignation of the state’s top law enforcement officer and elimination of the boot camp-style penal system for juveniles in Florida.

The NAACP led a march and rally last June to press for continued investigation of the Anderson case and other incidents involving the deaths of juveniles in custody.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.  Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

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