Serenity: Oh God, Oh God, We're All Going to Die
October 13, 2007

Martin Lee Anderson was sent to a boot camp for juvenile offenders at the age of 14. The first day there, he threw a fit at the exercises, like most 14 year olds faced with what looks to them like pointless indoctrination. He wanted to stop, he called it bullshit. Typical 14 year old rebellion. And, of course, you can't have that in a boot camp. You have to have fast discipline. So, the guards jumped the kid and "forced him" to continue the exercises. They held him down, they put him in take-down, they applied pressure points ... and I gotta say, I'm not sure how those things are forcing the boy to continue exercising ... sounds pretty much like forcing him to be still, to me. Finally, they forced him to inhale ammonia.

During this process, the boy went "unresponsive" in official-ese.

The first autopsy declared that the boy had a previously-undiagnosed blood disease which the staff couldn't have known. And that this was the cause of death. Announced five weeks after the boy's death.

Video showed the boy being kicked and punched. And ammonia capsules being shoved up his nose.

The family screamed.

A second autopsy was called for, the dead boy exhumed to be examined again, this time by the coroner of the county as well as several other forensic pathologists and a New York State Police coroner as well. The results indicated that the boy did have the "trait" of the blood disorder (meaning it was pretty much a non-issue rather than an active disease). They also noted that despite the bruising, the boy was not beaten to death.

According to the press release by the state attorney, nearly 5 months after the boy's death:

Martin Anderson's death was caused by suffocation due to actions of the guards at the boot camp. The suffocation was caused by manual occlusion of the mouth, in concert with forced inhalation of
ammonia fumes that caused spasm of the vocal cords resulting in internal blockage of the upper airway.

Governor Jeb Bush claimed he was disturbed by the findings and that he would ensure that justice was served.

Was Martin a bad kid who deserved to be beaten the first day at the camp?

According to the BBC, "The teenager had been sent to the camp for violating probation by trespassing at a school after he and his cousins were charged with stealing their grandmother's car from a church parking lot."

So, the eight various employees found themselves embroiled in a criminal suit.

Their defense? They used the procedures of the camp, designed to instill discipline. They claimed the boy was faking illness to get out of the exercises.

The response to Martin's death has been that all of the state's bootcamps are now closed. The head of the department of law enforcement stepped down.

The verdict has now come back after just 90 minutes of deliberation. Despite the fact that Governor Charlie Crist recommended the state pay $5million to the family, the jury has found the 8 defendants not guilty.

The all-white jury. Sitting in on the trial in which a 14 year old black boy was killed.

For whatever reason, I don't normally think of Florida as a part of "The South." Georgia is, of course, but for some reason, Florida is just kind of a separate entity, I suppose, in its own way like Texas is and Alaska and Hawaii.

When I look at an all white jury taking just 90 minutes to decide this case dealing with the death of a 14 year old black boy ... I have to re-think my gut reaction to not consider Florida a part of The South.

And I know better, really. I know that it doesn't matter what state we discuss. There are still numerous cases of racism around the United States, on a regular basis.

When Martin was killed, there had been ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY complaints of excessive force at the boot camp where he'd been killed.

After Martin's death, the use of ammonia capsules was banned. After Martin's death the use of violent measures such as punching and kicking the inmates of the camps was banned. Approximately four months after Martin's death, the boot camps were closed.

Was Martin Lee Anderson killed because he was a black boy?
Were the employees directly involved in his death acquitted because they were judged by a white jury?

I don't know.

I suspect these things are true. I suspect this because of my own experience. I fear that this is true and it hurts me.

Recently, a young man on BlogCatalog asked Do You Care About Racism?

And I had to respond, hell yes I care. I had to respond that I do think about this every day.

Do I care because of Martin Anderson? Yes, it's true that his story makes me care. It's true that the story of the Jena 6 makes me care.

But I also care about the issue of racism because of what I, personally, witness every day. Not in "The South." I witness it in northern Indiana. I watch as people cringe from the dark-skinned black man across the street.

I watch as people make fun of the Orthodox Jews who walk through our neighborhood on their way to shul.

I watch as people treat the latinos in town as less than human.

I watch, and I try to not stay silent. I try to NOT be the voyeur witnessing the pain of others.

And I get "that look" from my "fellow" whites. They are not happy with me, and I don't care.

For whatever reason, as a child, I knew that there was no difference between myself and "them mexicans." There was no difference between me and Jon Comb, who happened to be Jewish. There was no difference between me and Paula, the black girl who befriended me in junior high.

The only difference between "them" and "us" was circumstance. Colour did not enter into it. Other people's perceptions of us coloured who they thought we were. But it really didn't matter which of us was white, brown or black.

I mostly do not see colour, myself. I haven't seen colour since I was about seven.

Why can't everyone else? Why does it matter to ANYONE if someone is black, brown, yellow or white? What does it matter if they are Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu or Muslim?

Why must we keep sticking our noses into other peoples' private lives?

Do I care about racism?

I hurt knowing that people cannot celebrate differences but must instead rail about anyone different from themselves. So, yeah. I care. Not about the various colours of the people I know and don't know. I care that others are not colour blind. I care that people even fucking notice the difference between Jamaal and Chaim and John and Juan.

But what really haunts me?

What really haunts me this month of October ... this month of the dead ...
are the number of dead in the name of "I'm right and you're not" ... whether we're talking race or religion or just good old-fashioned us versus them.

Does this haunt you?

Posted by Red Monkey at October 13, 2007 8:12 PM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Wendy Friedrich said:

Kudos and Hooray I have never read such a well written narrative in my entire like
I commned you and would be pleased to be able to callyou friend

"I haven't seen colour since I was about seven."

Believe I was about the same age. Ihave had friends from every race, colour or creed. Hell's Bell's I even a married purebred German. Yea the country my family fought against.

Did I care Not in the least (34 years this year)

Congrats on excellent article

October 15, 2007 2:45 PM


MsDemmie said:

"What really haunts me this month of October ... this month of the dead ...
are the number of dead in the name of "I'm right and you're not" ... whether we're talking race or religion or just good old-fashioned us versus them.

Does this haunt you?"

Yes - on all fronts .............

What a stunning post.

October 15, 2007 5:13 PM


cardiogirl said:

The circumstances around Martin's death sound like the circumstances around the plot of "A Few Good Men" -- a cover up of a death due to a previously "unseen medical condition."

Very sad that we live in a world like this.

It is haunting.

October 16, 2007 8:56 AM


Alan said:

Wow. Another great post, ender. I am glad that the boot camps are closed, they should never have been allowed to open in the first place. And the 90 minute not guilty says to me that we are not nearly as far from Selma, in space or in time, as us loony liberals on the Left coast would like to think.

October 16, 2007 1:22 PM


JD Techfun said:

Very well thought out and written post. I grew up in Florida, South Central Florida in particular and it is very much part of the south. It's only the coasts and Orlando that give the illusion of non-Southernness.

In school I was in a gifted program in a very small school district. Because of the scale, there were only eight of us in the program and that eight included five white kids, two Cuban kids, and one black kid. As a result of having all our classes together and segregated from the school as a whole, we all became rather colorblind.

We were all competitive among ourselves and ones worth and standing in that small group was based on your brain and had nothing to do with race or color. Having the opportunity to work in a team like that changed me by creating a different path for me than that taken by the rest of my family.

The one black boy in our program, Michael, came over to my house after school to work on a project for which we were teamed. After working with me at the dining room table for an hour or so, my stepfather came home and announced that Michael needed to go home. As soon as Michael was gone I got reamed for "bringing a nigger into my house".

This was not because of anything Michael or any black individual had ever done. It was just intellectual laziness and apathy on my stepfather's part. He didn't know anyone of another race and didn't care to know any. He had taken the easy and lazy route by internalizing stereotypes and beliefs that he was exposed to his whole life and it was less work to let them play out than it would have been to learn that those beliefs were wrong.

October 17, 2007 11:23 AM

Sing it, ender! That's the best post I've read on any blog in a long time. And I'm right there with you.

October 17, 2007 2:22 PM


Jodi said:

Yes...Yes it haunts me as well...
Incredible thought process and so eloquently executed my friend!

October 20, 2007 8:51 AM
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