In Florida, a white prison gang brutally beat a Black 14-year-old named Martin Lee Anderson to death last year. Anderson had been sentenced to a juvenile
boot camp prison in rural Florida as punishment for taking his grandmother’s car for a joyride and then violating the terms of his probation. Within hours of his arrival, gang members surrounded him, held him down, punched him, kicked him, and, while restraining him, held hands over his mouth for up to five minutes at a stretch. They went on beating him for half an hour. They kept on beating him even as he lay limp and unable to move. The attack was captured on tape in a surveillance video, and the autopsy report concluded that Anderson died of suffocation. But just a couple weeks ago, in spite of the video, in spite of the report, the thugs who murdered Martin Lee Anderson were acquitted by an all-white jury in Panama City, Florida. Why? Because when they battered Martin Lee Anderson to death, the gang colors they were wearing looked like this:
An uneasy sense of dèjá vu swept over Florida last week after an all-white jury acquitted seven juvenile boot camp guards and a nurse charged with aggravated manslaughter in the death of a black teen last year.
The shocking verdict came down despite a half hour of videotape that showed the guards hitting and kicking the 14-year-old, Martin Lee Anderson, and holding their hands over his mouth for as long as five minutes at a time, while the nurse stood by and watched. The jury seemed persuaded by the first and widely discredited autopsy report that blamed the boy’s death on a sickle-cell condition, even though a second autopsy ordered by the state had ruled Anderson died from suffocation (the Justice Department has since announced it will investigate whether federal civil rights violations charges should be brought in the case).It’s wrong!Anderson’s mother, Gina Jones, shouted as she stormed out of the Panama City courtroom after the verdict was read.
There’s more. Because there is always fucking more. For example, there are the repeated efforts by state and local officials to cover up the murder. Or there are the other cases.
The Anderson decision was reminiscent of another bewildering verdict five years ago, when three Florida state prison guards charged with stomping 36-year-old inmate Frank Valdes to death in his cell in 1999 were acquitted — even though the guards’ boot prints were found all over his back.
… The state is facing lawsuits alleging that its prisons subject too many inmates, including the mentally ill, to a prisoner “warehousing” culture of unlawfully extreme isolation and deprivation, usually with little or no rehabilitation efforts to prevent recidivism. Other suits decry what one calls excessive as well asmalicious and sadisticuse of pepper spray and other chemicals to keep mentally ill prisoners under control. In many cases the sprays have burned off inmates’ skin, according to the suit.Florida prisons still need to end this kind of outrageous conduct,says Randall Berg, executive director of the Florida Justice Institute in Miami, which is participating in a suit filed against the state’s current Corrections head, James McDonough, along with other department officials.
… In June of 2003, Omar Paisley, 17, an inmate at a juvenile detention center in Miami that was filled 135% beyond capacity, died when nurses ignored his pleas for help after his appendix burst. The nurses were later charged with manslaughter and third-degree murder, to which they have pleaded not guilty, and their trials are pending. Prosecutors at the trial of Valdes — who was awaiting execution for murdering a Palm Beach County corrections officer in 1987 — contended that one of the reasons he was beaten was the letters he’d begun writing to the media about abuses at Florida State Prison under its then warden, James Crosby. That made it all the more surprising when Bush appointed Crosby secretary of the state’s Corrections Department in 2003. Then last year Crosby was convicted after a sweeping federal probe of corruption inside the state’s prisons — and he’s now serving eight years in prison himself.
Whenever these kind of atrocities happen, mainstream media sources routinely decry and marginalize them in the same breath, by describing the sadism and the violence as
abuses within the prison system,
rot within the
corrections culture, etc. This admits the problem while not really taking it seriously. In fact, intimidation and violence are the currency of control in prisons as we know them, and these practices bear no meaningful relationship whatsoever to any defense against imminent threats: convicts are imprisoned and coerced whether or not their crimes were violent, whether or not their crimes were even particularly serious, and whether or not there is any realistic chance that they will pose an ongoing threat to anybody in the future, because the hangman State exercises its power in the name of after-the-fact
deterrence of unrelated parties, in the name of
rehabilitation, and sometimes in the name of punishment and vengeance. This is not a matter of some fundamentally humane institution being perverted, under the influence of corrupt individuals or a corrupt internal culture, into an abuse of power. The thing itself is the abuse.