A second weekend of social activism at the Capitol has come, and protesters continued to say Friday they don’t plan to go home.
Backed by the arrival of supporters from throughout Florida and the East Coast, as well as singer and activist Harry Belafonte, protesters led by the Hialeah-based Dream Defenders maintained their request for a special legislative session amid rousing chants that filled an area outside the governor’s office.
“We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think there was a chance, and we’re not about fighting a fight that is lost from the beginning,” said Saleema Ali, a 23-year-old Orlando resident who joined the protest Thursday.
The protesters, who have used social media to broaden their call, want lawmakers to reconsider the state’s controversial 2005 “stand your ground” law, review racial profiling by police and review what they see as changes needed in the juvenile-justice system.
A couple hundred protesters filled the plaza level of the Capitol on Friday, the largest turnout for the protest since it started July 16. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported 86 people spent the night outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office on Thursday, also the most since the demonstration began.
But Scott, who visited the protesters for about an hour on July 18 but has otherwise avoided the Capitol since the protesters arrived, also has received support for his decision to reject a special session.
“Please continue to stand your ground on this issue. There are many of us for this law,” wrote Jean Howard of Hillsborough County to Scott’s Sunburst email on Wednesday.
Lorraine Snyder of Osceola County also advised Scott via email to, “Love our country enough to not cave in to this one sided political move by has beens and Hollywood. Maybe their unemployment, disability, and welfare checks will run out and they will have to return to their jobs, and responsibilities.”
The protesters say Scott’s stance has only hardened their will.
The Dream Defenders’ latest effort is to reach out to state lawmakers. They need to get 20 percent of lawmakers to demand a poll of the full Legislature. The long-shot hope is that three-fifths of the Republican-dominated House and Senate would respond affirmatively to a special session request.
“This is not even the tip of the iceberg on how we plan to receive justice,” said Dream Defenders Political Director Ciara Taylor.
While the legislative polling method is in state law, House Clerk Bob Ward advised the speaker’s office there was no record of the process ever being used in Florida.
The protesters are also planning to hold their own special session the next three Tuesdays to review their areas of concern.
The protest was sparked by the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the February 2012 shooting death of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin. Though Zimmerman’s attorneys did not use a stand-your-ground defense, the Sanford case has led to a national debate about the law.
Belafonte, 86, the “King of Calypso” best known for the 1956 song “The Banana Boat” and whose social activism stretches back to the 1950s, said that if Scott knew history he’d call the special session.
“I would suggest he deals with it now while there is still sanity and peace,” Belafonte said before stressing that he supports non-violent protests.
Belafonte was considered a confidant of slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich also intends to visit the protesters Saturday.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement advised Rich that officers wouldn’t open the doors to the Capitol to the former state senator, as the doors remain closed to any member of the public during the weekend. However, Rich can still get inside as a guest of a current state lawmaker, said FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.
The Florida State Conference of the NAACP has joined the call for a session over the “stand your ground” law.
In a letter to Scott on Tuesday, the NAACP noted the 4th District Court of Appeal said July 17 that the controversial legal defense can be used by a Broward County juvenile involved in a fight on a middle school bus.
“With the verdict in the Zimmerman trial and the broadened interpretation of the ‘stand your ground’ law, it is only a matter of time before weapons become a norm for children in our schools,” Florida NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze wrote Scott.
The FDLE estimated the cost for round-the-clock security has required more than $50,600 in overtime. Counting regular pay, the FDLE put security costs since July 15, the day before the protesters arrived at the Capitol, around $200,000.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida