"Beating Justice: The Martin Lee Anderson Story," should be required viewing for Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Tampa and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-FortLauderdale, the sponsors of a misguided and pernicious change to Floridas public records law that seems to be on a fast track in the Florida Legislature.
The Burgin-Bogdanoff bill lets the government deep-six photographs, videos, or audio recordings depicting or recording the killing of a person by exempting them from the public records laws. Killing is broadly defined as all acts or events that cause or otherwise relate to the death of any human being, including any related acts or events immediately preceding or subsequent to the acts or events that were the proximate cause of death.
"Beating Justice," which had its world premier Saturday at the Tallahassee Film Festival, begins on Jan. 5, 2006, when 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson entered the Bay County Sheriff's Office Boot Camp in Panama City, Fla. Hours later, he was dead.
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) pulled out buckets of whitewash, but a videotape released under Floridas century-old public records law exposed the profoundly disturbing images of eight guards choking, beating, and stuffing ammonia pills up the boys nose while a nurse looked on.
The picture was worth far more than a thousand words.
The Anderson tape shocked Florida's conscience.Students from Florida State, FAMU and Tallahassee Community College staged sit-ins at the governors office and marches down Monroe Street.
A team of Florida prosecutors fought to punish those responsible for Martins death. One of many riveting moments in "Beating Justice" shows then-Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi cuing up the video for the Bay County jury that would, following 90 minutes of deliberation, acquit all the defendants of all the criminal charges.
The Martin Lee Anderson tape takes its place in history alongside a picture of another 14-year-old boy, Emmett Till. Born and reared in Chicago, Emmett didnt know he was taking his life in his hands in August 1955 when he whistled at a white woman in Money, Ms.
Three nights later, he was dragged from his bed, beaten, shot in the head, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. Emmetts mother insisted upon an open casket so the world could bear witness to her childs suffering and her own inexpressible loss.Three months later, the Montgomery bus boycott began.
Martin's memorial is the empty killing field where he died. DJJ closed Bay County and all its other boot camps in the wake of his death.
Social change is cold comfort to a grieving mother. But the images of the torture these boys endured helped turn the tides of history and surely saved the lives of other children.
The Burgin-Bogdanoff bill was prompted by the murders of Tampa police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis. The crime was captured on a tape destined to be Exhibit A as prosecutors seek the death penalty for Dontae Morris. The lawmakers say they want to spare victims families from further trauma.
However compassionate the motive, this overbroad bill also would spare the government from accountability for atrocities. To comfort one grieving family today, this bill would prevent the exposure of facts that might prevent creating more grieving families tomorrow. It almost guarantees them.
In memory of Emmett Till and Martin Lee Anderson and also of Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, who surely would not wish for more Emmetts or Martins lets hope Rep. Burgin and Sen. Bogdanoff have a change of heart.
Florence Snyder is a corporate lawyer. She also consults on ethics and First Amendment issues. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.