For more than eight days, a group of activists and students organized by the Dream Defenders have occupied the Florida Capitol, right outside Florida Governor Rick Scott’s (R) office. The activists say they plan to occupy the Capitol until the governor calls a special session to review the state’s Stand Your Ground law, racial profiling, and the school-to-prison pipeline, and consider what they call the Trayvon Martin Act. But after meeting with the protesters last week, Scott announced he has no intention to review Stand Your Ground, which played a role in jury deliberations that led to George Zimmerman’s acquittal.
“That’s very disappointing on our part,” Dream Defenders legal and policy director Ahmad Abuznaid told ThinkProgress. “We are attempting to get Governor Rick Scott and the state leadership here to be real leaders and so far they have not stepped up to the plate. So far, we have decided to hold our own legislative session to show them how it’s done.”
Next Tuesday, Dream Defenders plan mock legislative sessions where civic leaders and juvenile experts will weigh the pros and cons of Trayvon’s law.
Their support is only building. From the sit-in’s first days of around 30 protesters, the number has grown to between 60 to 100 participants at peak times, according to Abuznaid. Now, they are attracting national attention, as groups from Baltimore, Philly, and New York, as well as Florida Democrats, bring supporters and supplies.
One of Dream Defenders’ main goals is to repeal Stand Your Ground, which worsens the effects of racial bias in criminal justice. For example, white defendants who shot a black person and invoked Stand Your Ground were 11 times more likely to go unpunished as black defendants who shot a white person.
Beyond Stand Your Ground, the group is fighting for policies that end zero tolerance in the justice system for minority youth, including a civil citation program statewide that issues tickets over jailtime for first-time offenders. Miami Dade has implemented it, and activists want to see a broader application. “Its’ not enough,” Abuznaid said. “Improving one county is not enough and it’s not successful. If that was a grade in school, 1 in 67, [Scott] would be failing.”
But Scott is unlikely to budge on these issues. Having played a pivotal role in protecting Stand Your Ground, Scott has deferred to the conclusion of the task force he appointed last year to keep the American Legislative Exchange Council-sponsored law. “Look, this thing should not be politicized,” Scott said last Thursday. “I mean, we lost a 17-year-old young man in our state.”