Scars of torture at so-called US reform school won’t go away

Jerry Cooper speaks to AFP during an interview in the community center of his neighborhood in Fort Myers, Florida, on April 23, 2019. (AFP / Leila Macor)
Updated 03 May 2019

Scars of torture at so-called US reform school won’t go away

  • “I was a kid when I went there. I was no kid when I got out. I was a monster," says reform school victim
  • Anthropologists found 55 unmarked graves on the grounds of the school in a probe that took four years and ended in 2016

FORT MYERS, US: Jerry Cooper says he endured torture and cruelty that were everyday things for decades at a reform school in Florida, turning him into something horrible.
As authorities prepare to investigate a possible new set of unmarked graves on the school grounds after dozens were found a few years ago, apologies are finally coming in. But 60 years after he was abused, Cooper says they are not enough.
“I was a kid when I went there. I was no kid when I got out. I was a monster. I mean, a monster,” Cooper, now 74, told AFP.
“Violence breeds violence. And that’s all we knew. Total violence, 24 hours a day. Either mentally, sexually, or physically,” he added.
And he is still not over it, saying he has a short temper and is on medication for it.
The Florida School of Boys, or Dozier as it was called, was a reform school that stretched over 1,400 acres (567 hectares) in Marianna in northwest Florida — the same area hit by Hurricane Michael in October of last year.
That is very significant. Cleanup work after all the damage wrought by the storm turned up 27 “anomalies” that could be human remains in the land where the school used to be, the Tampa Bay Times reported last month.
Helen Ferre, a spokeswoman for Governor Ron DeSantis, told AFP, “the team that previously worked on the property are preparing to look at this new area.”
She was referring to a group of anthropologists from the University of South Florida that found 55 unmarked graves on the grounds of the school. That probe took four years and ended in 2016.
Cooper says he would not be surprised if the newly reported anomalies turn out to be more graves.
The place was sheer hell, he recalls.
Once, in the middle of the night in 1961, when he was 16, guards pulled him out of his room and whipped him — 135 lashes with a leather belt. He said he saw his blood splattering on the wall.
Cooper pointed to the red shirt worn by an AFP reporter and said, “The color of your shirt right there is what I looked like at two o’clock in the morning from my small part of my back to the back of my knees.”
“I’ve never gotten over that. We never will,” he said, shaking his head.
These days Cooper lives with his wife in a neighborhood with lots of retired people in Fort Myers in southwest Florida. He does not move around in a golf cart like other neighbors do but rather on a three-wheel motorcycle. He hopes some day to ride it all the way to Canada with his dog Blue.

Chained to walls in irons
According to people who went to the reform school, cruel treatment at the facility, which operated from 1900 to 2011, was routine until the early 1960s. Years ago, one way to scare kids was to say you would send them to Marianna.
These are not just made up stories. Lots of people who went through the school say it was a nightmare. Some did not survive the ordeal.
If the latest “anomalies” found are confirmed to be human remains, it would raise the number of unaccounted for deaths to 82.
A report from the USF in 2012 said boys were sent to the school for theft and murder but also for minor offenses such as “incorrigibility,” “truancy” and “dependence.”
Orphans for whom no home could be found were also sent to the school.
“Beginning as early as 1901, reports of children being chained to walls in irons, brutal whippings, and peonage surfaced,” these researchers wrote.
In 2008, survivors of Dozier created a group called the “White House Boys” in an effort to force the state to acknowledge its role in the torture of children.
The name comes from a place where guards took kids to beat them with a leather belt.
Today all the members of the group, now led by Cooper, are around 70 years old and they number some 300. Many are felons.
“What else could you expect? What else could you possibly expect to happen,” Cooper said, shrugging his shoulders. “Again, violence breeds violence.”
In 2017, the state of Florida formally apologized for what happened at the school, but no reparations were ever paid and no one was charged.
Now, the state will work to “bring some healing and closure to the victims, their families, and all impacted.”
Cooper, however, is impatient because year after year goes by and there are fewer and fewer survivors. The previous investigation took four years and he says many survivors do not have that much time.
And there is another thing.
“I’m concerned about the boys that we don’t know who they are. We’re the only family they have now. The unidentified boys, without us, they have nobody.”


Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

Updated 33 min 10 sec ago

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

  • Antony Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden
  • Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.
Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.
In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.
Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.
Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.
If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.
For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.
Biden’s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.
“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”
Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.
“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.