PENSACOLA — Florida's largest black Baptist church coalition has backed off threats to boycott a Panhandle county where an all-white jury exonerated juvenile boot camp guards in a black teenager's death.
But the death and guards' videotaped attack of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson is a key agenda item in the Progressive M&E Baptist State Convention of Florida Inc., which began its weeklong meeting Monday night in Bay County.
The organization had already signed contracts to hold its 2008 convention at a Panama City resort before Anderson died in 2006, said the Rev. Brian K. Brown of St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Myers. More than 1,600 coalition members from across Florida are expected to attend.
"There was much dialogue as to whether we should pull out, but we had signed legal documents and there would be legal repercussions for us," Brown said.
Convention leaders instead plan a Tuesday news conference to call for federal charges against the seven guards and nurse who were acquitted in October. And the ministers plan to take a message of racial healing to the community, Brown said.
A video showed the black, white and Asian guards slamming the teen on the ground and dragging his limp body around an exercise yard. The nurse watched and did nothing during most of the 30-minute altercation. Anderson died a day later.
Jurors agreed with defense attorneys' arguments that the teen died of natural complications from sickle cell trait, a previously undiagnosed blood disorder, and that the guards could have done nothing to prevent his death.
The verdict caused outrage among college students in Tallahassee who staged street protests. Justice Department officials met with the students and discussed bringing federal civil rights charges against the eight.
Karen Rhew, an assistant U.S. attorney in Tallahassee, said a prosecutor is assigned full time to the case, which is still under review. Rhew said she could not comment on details because the investigation is ongoing.
But Benjamin Crump, a private attorney who represented Anderson's parents, has little hope federal charges will be brought.
"We just try to believe they are going to do something but history doesn't bode well. When police kill black boys they normally don't go to jail even if their is a videotape with all the evidence there," he said.