Taking the fight to the Florida Capitol
reports from the occupation of the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee, where activists are demanding that lawmakers pass the Trayvon Martin Act.
AS DAY Two of the occupation of the Florida state Capitol drew to a close on July 17, activists from the Dream Defenders were calling on Gov. Rick Scott to call a special legislative session to examine the criminal justice system, including repeal of the "Stand Your Ground" law that protects racist murderers like George Zimmerman. The demonstration continued for a third day as this article was prepared for publication.
The Dream Defenders, an anti-racist group of Black and Brown youths, was founded last year after the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.
On July 16, at 10 a.m., Dream Defenders chapters and supporters from all over Florida showed up at the Capitol in Tallahassee, with more than 100 people pouring into the lobby. As they headed toward the governor's office, they chanted, "Whose world is this? The world is ours! Whose state is this? The state is ours!"
Once they were in the governor's office, the Dream Defenders read their list of demands. The list was read again every hour, on the hour, during the occupation:
The Dream Defenders demand:
-- Fully repeal Stand Your Ground;
-- Require law enforcement agencies to develop written policies defining and prohibiting racial profiling;
-- Mandate law enforcement training on racial profiling;
-- Repeal zero-tolerance policies in schools;
-- Issue civil citations for first misdemeanor offenses for minors;
-- Promote restorative justice programs for youth.
We call on Gov. Scott and the Florida legislature to pass these policies as the state's Trayvon Martin Act. Together, we are united in ensuring Trayvon's unjust death was not for nothing. Our anger in the face of gross injustice has led us to take action, but it is the love of our people, our community that pushes us forward. We will remain here, standing OUR ground, for Trayvon, for justice, until our demands are met.
"We are here today to demand justice for the Trayvon Martin case. We are at the Florida state Capitol, in Rick Scott's office, and we plan on staying the night to get our demands met," said Daniel Agnew from the Dream Defenders Communications Team.
The Dream Defenders are organizing against racism on many fronts, linking issues like poverty, the school to prison pipeline, immigration and racial profiling. They see these issues as interconnected and part of the systematic oppression of people of color in this country.
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ACTIVISTS SAY their occupation will continue until Rick Scott agrees to speak to the Dream Defenders--not simply to hear them read their demands, but actually have a conversation about race and injustice in Florida.
After the murder of Trayvon, the governor commissioned a special session to discuss the Stand Your Ground. That task force--led by former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who was forced to resign after charges of corruption--issued its findings in February, recommending no change to the law. So far, Rick Scott is saying that his answer to the Dream Defenders' demands is no.
On Tuesday night, about 20 people stayed overnight. The Capitol police closed the doors to the governor's office, but didn't prevent activists from staying in the lobby area of the Capitol. On Wednesday, the number rose to 50.
Across the country, people are showing their solidarity with the occupation by sending food, water, and other necessities. #takeovertuesday and #westillinherewednesday are being used on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media outlets to turn numbers out and spread the word.
According to Regina Joseph, vice president of the Florida State University Dream Defenders:
I am here because Trayvon Martin reminds me of my brother. Trayvon Martin was a child, and yet a jury of six women did not see him as a person. We need to combat this.
A lot of people are just apathetic because this country has been built on 500 years of white supremacy and the exploitation of people, and they think that because of that history, it will always be like that. But it shouldn't be. The youth and the community members around us have an obligation to make sure that in the future of America, there will never be another moment where we have to come together like this.
Taking a quote from civil rights leader Ella Baker, protesters sang, "Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers' sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it's won."
Visit the Dream Defenders website for updates and information on how to help build solidarity.
As Jamaal Hill, a senior at the University of Florida, said, "We need to get together and stay together."