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After 31 Days, Dream Defenders
End Their Protest at the Florida Capitol

| August 15, 2013

The Dream

The Dream

After sitting in at the Florida Capitol for 31 days — since just after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin — the group called the Dream Defenders ended its protest Thursday with the help of civil-rights icon Julian Bond.

Leaders said they’ll carry their campaign against the “stand your ground” self-defense law and what they consider other forms of racial bias to the polls, trying to defeat the elected officials who opposed their demands.

That includes Gov. Rick Scott, who is up for re-election next year. The Dream Defenders announced a voter registration drive, with a goal of 61,550 new voters — Scott’s margin of victory in 2010.

“Our work and our power have grown too big for these walls,” said Phillip Agnew, leader of the Dream Defenders.

The group marched to the Capitol on July 16 and demanded a special session on “stand your ground,” which they didn’t get. But they got a national hearing, and Bond — founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and a longtime Georgia lawmaker — declared their non-violent action a success in the tradition of the 1960s civil rights movement.

“It’s fitting that the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is coming up in a few days,” he said. “That movement made this movement possible, and that movement — your movement — gave our movement its legacy.”

The protest ignited when Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in the shooting death of the unarmed teen Martin. Although Zimmerman’s attorneys did not invoke the “stand your ground” law, which grants immunity to people who use deadly force if they have reason to believe their lives are in jeopardy, the circumstances of Martin’s death touched a nerve among many black, Hispanic and mixed-race people.

Members of the Dream Defenders are mostly high school and college students — “black and brown youth,” they call themselves. They’ve spent the last month in Scott’s office waiting area, telling stories of losing loved ones to gun violence or experiencing racism in school or on the street. They worked laptops, smart phones and video cameras from the third-floor House Democratic office, getting the word out online. They slept on the floor outside the governor’s double doors.

Agnew said the group would leave the Capitol to serve Scott with an eviction notice. He also said they were leaving on their own terms. He pointed to House Speaker Will Weatherford’s promise that the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee would hold a hearing on “stand your ground” during a committee week this fall.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, said its members would have an opportunity to vote their consciences. But Gaetz has also said “not one comma” of the “stand your ground” law should be changed.

“The right to protest is one that we should protect,” he said Thursday afternoon. “But if they’re on the way to serve the governor with an eviction notice, maybe my hopes for adult behavior are a bit optimistic.”

Gaetz also has noted that Floridians support “stand your ground” by a 2-to-1 margin.

“It would be no surprise if the Legislature reaches the conclusion that ‘stand your ground’ keeps them safer,” Gaetz said, “because most Floridians have already reached that conclusion.”

In listing his group’s accomplishments, Agnew said it had forced a poll of lawmakers about whether to have the special session — a proposed session that was overwhelmingly rejected earlier this week.

And they spent an hour with Scott, who refused to call the special session but allowed them to protest at the Capitol around the clock.

In a statement, Scott thanked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Capitol Police “for providing a safe environment for people to exercise their First Amendment rights. We live in a great state, in a great nation, where everyone is free to express their views.”

According to FDLE, 33 protesters stayed overnight Wednesday, and as of Thursday, the state had spent $428,566.69 on security.

The sit-in also drew a steady stream of visitors, including entertainer and civil-rights veteran Harry Belafonte, Florida Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters and rapper Talib Kweli. Another visitor was longtime activist Jesse Jackson, who touched off his own media storm by claiming that Florida practiced apartheid and comparing Scott to segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

Agnew said the group would return to the Capitol on Sept. 23, when legislative committees start meeting in advance of the 2014 regular session.

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida


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23 Responses for “After 31 Days, Dream Defenders
End Their Protest at the Florida Capitol”

  1. The Truth says:

    They stood up for something they believed in and they did it peacefully. I commend them for that.

  2. Confused says:

    To bad they aren’t as serious about all the drug dealing, drug use, womanizing, and fatherless children in their communities. I guess this cause is really the greater need in black and Latino communities. Go protest the violence associated with drug sales in front of your local trap house and see how it goes? What a joke…

    • The Truth says:

      What makes you think they aren’t as serious about those things as well? Why is it that when someone or a group of people do something peacefully and stand up for something they believe that close-minded people like you have to stomp all over them because they aren’t doing something you want them to do.

      It seems there are many in this country that will target a group of people because of their race regardless of what they’re standing up for. It’s apparently okay for a group of wealthy, white people to stand on overpasses asking to “Impeach Obama” and not do something better with their time, but when young, multi-racial group of people stand up for something they believe is right in a way that might actually make a change, you claim they aren’t doing it right?

    • A.S.F. says:

      @Confused–I assume, from the tone of your post (and despite the picture that heads this article) that you would like to think all these protesters were people of color, just as you like to presume that white people never commit the sorts of crimes and social misdemeaners you are talking about. I guess you just overlook all the headlines on this very forum that feature white offenders doing many of the very terrible things you like to ascribe to only a select group. Human beings are capable of wonderful things and terrible things. These protesters are interested in making the world around them a better place. Your words, however, are more indicative of the darker forces that result from blind prejudice. I would call that confused, indeed.

    • The Truth says:

      We understand, since they don’t look like the patriots of the tea party you are not interested. Get over it, people in this country vary in many different ways. Show respect to everyone.

  3. RHWeir says:

    Bye, Bye! This is a representative democracy. Just because a small group of people want to change a law, it won’t happen. Let’s have a referendum on the issue in the fall. Go ahead, put it on the ballot. I don’t believe in handguns for private citizens. However, I don’t oppose stand your ground. Mainly because I don’t plan on confronting anyone and I certainly don’t plan on assaulting anyone. So, I don’t really care about stand your ground. Maybe it will deter a few more thugs from bothering the rest of us? I have not noticed any coverage of the law suit against Paula Deen being dismissed. How about some coverage of that?

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Yes! States Rights! Representative Democracy! Personal Responsibility! Who could possibly be against these basic human freedoms? And if Alabama or Georgia want to reinstate slavery tomorrow, who is Washington to say NO to the Will of the People!! And then those gun grabbing commies say we don’t have the right to defend ourselves with whatever guns God gave us if They object to our majority opinions! The socialist bastards!

  4. really? says:

    ok i believe in the constitution but $428,566.69 dollars spent on security. Can we find a less expensive way rather than trying to bankrupt the State? The doors should be locked at night and weekends and any protester should be outside. During normal operating hours any protester would be allowed inside. And don’t worry Scott won’t get re-elected too many people don’t like him for a variety of reasons.

  5. BW says:

    In my opinion this is another group trying to grandstand and just get attention from a tragic event. Changing “stand your ground” would not have prevented this or other violence. Changing politicians is not going to change people’s attitudes about violence and respect for others. I’m glad to see them standing up, but they are focusing on the surface issues and not the root of the problem. The real problem is far beyond what any law can change because laws don’t change value systems within people’s hearts and minds.

    • The Truth says:

      I agree that we need to change your society as a whole and that laws won’t do that automatically, but the problem with Stand your Ground is that it allows someone to shoot without thinking of the consequences. They can simply say I was defending myself, even though the person they shot had no weapon and was followed by that person.

  6. Sherry Epley says:

    It’s great to see that these STUDENT protestors are multi-racial, and that they spent time on their SUMMER BREAK to make their impact in a peaceful, democratic way. They should each be congratulated for caring enough about the laws of our state to take their precious time to send an important message to our government leaders and society in general. . . especially when many of their peers were out partying at the beach all summer. Go Dream Defenders. . . Keep Up the Great Work!

  7. Sherry Epley says:

    WOW! The bigoted comments here seem to be like the pot calling the kettle black. How can any intelligent, civilized, conscious, caring person characterize an entire group of people, they’ve never met, in such a derogatory fashion? Unless, perhaps, they, themselves are none of the above.

  8. Shocked, I tell you... says:

    It’s easy to sit and protest. It is what they do with the rest of their lives that will matter.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Actually, it’s not that easy. But it will be an experience that will show you what is important for the rest of your life. Especially if you’re beaten and arrested. Scott must have shit himself not being able to risk the exposure of doing what his instincts wanted with his re-election coming up.

  9. m&m says:

    This was a useless protest. Now they can go back to doing nothing..

  10. karma says:

    16.6% of Florida’s population is black, yet 1/3rd of all stand your ground claims(Homicide) came from blacks. This is a rate that is nearly double the black percentage of Florida’s population and 55% of these cases where successful. Anyone want to guess who the majority of victims where?

  11. Rocky Mac says:

    For those who did not read the article, most were high school and college students. “Never believe that a small group of people can’t change the world……..” Margaret Mead

  12. Rocky Mac says:

    “a few caring people, for indeed they already have.” Margaret Mead

  13. Sherry Epley says:

    I disagree. . . I have sat in protest. I have marched with signs against wars and various other peaceful, progressive causes. IT IS NOT EASY! It is not easy to be ignored, insulted, and sometimes even threatened or hurt. . . when you, yourself are protesting peacefully and very much within your rights. These young people are respectfully standing up for what they believe. They are participating in the democratic process instead of just reading about it in books. They are mostly STUDENTS of differing skin color with a common belief and cause.

    Yet, instead of giving them ANY kind of benefit of the doubt, the ignorant among us are somehow threatened by them and assuming they are simply “no good”. Why is that? Why do some people automatically assume the worst about anyone who looks a little different or thinks a little different? Is our society so filled with fear and hate that we can no longer feel pride in our young people when they quite lawfully and peacefully take a stand for better laws?

  14. rhweir says:

    Reality is, I think the kids had to go back to classes. Summer break is almost over. I can recall protesting the war in SE Asia back in the early 70s. Now, those were real, in your face demonstrations. Cops chasing students and tear gas if the demonstration deteriorated. This particular issue though, I just don’t see it. I am old enough that I remember trips to Florida from up north driving thru the south prior to the interstate system. At a gas station, I was like 9 then, I got out the car and walked into a restroom. An older black man approached and asked what was I doing? I told him use the facility. He said you can’t, I said, why not and he pointed at a sign over the door that read “Colored Only”. I said, huh? He laughed and pointed me to the restroom with the “Whites Only: sign. I also saw the lunch counter sit ins on that trip. I 100% supported demonstrations against segregation, racism and for voters rights then and now. The recent situation in the state capitol, I just don’t see it. No comparison to the 1960s and early 70s. It appears to have been a created situation with no sound reasoning. Idealistic students, what are you gonna do? I their minds, they did their part.

  15. karma says:

    And yet African Americans have a larger “Justified” RATE than whites in stand your ground cases.

  16. The Geode says:

    Why is it STILL a Black/White issue when you can CLEARLY see at least THREE different races of protesters? Bigots have a way of turning everything into a race issue while blaming every other race for their miserable lives. Apparently, racism is alive and kicking…

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