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Gov. Bush Offers Apology to Parents Over Teen's Death

He rejects criticism that he has done little in the case of Martin Lee Anderson, who died after being beaten by guards at a boot camp.

April 21, 2006|Mark Hollis | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — An apologetic Gov. Jeb Bush met privately Thursday with the parents of a teen who died after a beating by guards at a Panama City boot camp, and rejected criticism he hasn't done enough to bring justice in a case that has inflamed Florida's black community.

"He offered his condolences and apologized," said the family's attorney, Benjamin Crump, who attended the meeting. "He assured us they [governor's office employees] were every day calling down to the special prosecutor's office, [offering] all the resources of the state of Florida ... to get the justice sooner than later."

Student protesters outside the governor's office ended their 34-hour sit-in over the state's treatment of Martin Lee Anderson, 14, and the investigation into his Jan. 6 death.

Blurry-eyed student activists who accused the governor of leading a "systematic coverup" said they would join rallies in Tallahassee today that are expected to feature national civil rights leaders such as the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Though the governor's remorseful pose with Anderson's parents and their attorneys was intended to ease tensions, it had little effect on some black political leaders throughout the state. Bush made no statements after the hourlong meeting.

Bush also met with some of the students who protested outside his office, saying they shouldn't blame him for delays in the investigation.

Black legislators and other civil rights activists said Bush had been slow to focus on the Anderson case and could have used his authority more forcefully and persuasively. These critics said that as governor, Bush had often been reticent to embrace the black community's concerns, such as charges that white guards may have mistreated Anderson, who was black, due to his race.

Anderson's parents, were reluctant Thursday night to criticize the governor, praising him for listening to their concerns.

"I think he's getting on the right path now," said Anderson's mother, Gina Jones. "He knows how I feel."

Black state legislators and others characterized the boot camp probe as only the latest in Bush's strained dealings on matters of race. Many of them said they saw Bush's two-term tenure as one of neglect of the concerns of racial minorities, despite his having ardently campaigned for black support in his gubernatorial elections.

"He is disappointing when it comes to issues of race," said Rep. Christopher L. Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who endorsed Bush's first run for governor but has since become one of his fiercest political foes. He pointed to the governor's policies on affirmative action, school overhauls and social services spending.

Sen. Les Miller, a Tampa Democrat and a leader in the state's black legislative caucus, accused Bush on Thursday of "lacking sensitivity to matters of race" and having "failed to show any real concern with the plight of African Americans."

To some of these black state officials and activists, most of whom are Democrats, this week's Capitol sit-in and developments in the Anderson case were reminders of the high-profile sit-in by two black lawmakers in 2000 over Bush's pledge to revamp the state's affirmative action policies. That sit-in prompted the largest civil rights march in Tallahassee history, when more than 10,000 people denounced Bush's "One Florida" plan dealing with race policies in universities and state hiring and purchasing.

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