Editorial: Remember Martin Lee Anderson
"Does anyone remember Martin Lee Anderson?"
That's the question being asked by the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, and it says all you really need
to know about a proposal in the Florida Legislature to shut down public access to law enforcement videos that "depict
or record the killing of a person."
It's a bad bill, part of a continual legislative effort to shield government actions from public view.
At first blush, no doubt some would say it's a good idea to keep such sensitive images out of public view.
But the First Amendment Foundation is the chief watchdog over Florida residents' right to know what their state and
local governments are doing in their name. And the foundation points out that it was a surveillance video tape of
events leading to the death of the 14-year-old in a "boot camp" in Panama City, designed to rehabilitate wayward
teens, that led to major reforms, including the closing of the camps.
Anderson was sent to the camp after taking his grandmother's car on a "joyride." It violated probation he was on for
various other juvenile offenses.
At the camp, Anderson was deemed "uncooperative" after refusing to complete a required mile run within two hours
of being admitted. He was soon dead after a beating administered while guards and a nurse watched. At the end,
guards held their hands over his mouth in an attempt to revive him by getting him to inhale ammonia from a tablet
through his nose.
According to a news report, "The local sheriff said on the day of the incident that Anderson simply collapsed during
the run, and the local coroner ruled that (Anderson) died of natural causes. ...
"The case might have all gone away — except for those surveillance cameras. Robert Anderson, the teenager's
father, said that 'everything had been shoved right up under the rug. Martin Anderson would have been forgot about
if it wouldn't have been for this tape.'
"The tape was eventually released, and after it was widely played on television and the Internet, there was a public
outcry, and a second autopsy followed. Prosecutors believe that this second autopsy showed that Anderson did
indeed die because of the incident: He had been suffocated to death."
Those involved were eventually cleared of manslaughter charges, but the only thing that kept the incident from being
covered up entirely was the tape. Without it, the public would have remained in the dark, no one would have been
held accountable — and perhaps more teenagers would have died.