Students from around Florida have converged at the state capitol in Tallahassee demanding that Gov. Rick Scott heed their demands concerning racial profiling and school-to-prison pipeline issues in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict. The youth — mostly Latino and African Americans — call themselves the “Dream Defenders” and have occupied the building since Tuesday making pleas to speak with the governor. Leaders of the Defenders say Gov. Scott has so far refused to meet with them so they plan to stay overnight, through the weekend if necessary, until the governor responds.
The Dream Defenders have been organizing around the killing of Trayvon Martin since the murder happened last spring. Today, hundreds of students, some as young as nine years old, are gathered to convince state lawmakers to pass the “Trayvon Martin Act.” The bill would address racial profiling, “Stand Your Ground” laws and school-to-prison pipeline issues — “the three pillars that led to George Zimmerman getting away with killing Trayvon Martin,” said Dream Defender Philip Agnew on a media call.
Despite the governor’s rebuff of their request to meet with him, Agnew said, “We’re not going anywhere. The State House Legislative building is a great place to live,” and joked that he even has some change-of-address forms.
According to Dream Defender Ciara Taylor, the number of students occupying the building have “doubled” since they started Tuesday. Annie Thomas, of the Miami-based Power U Center for Social Change, said students there are “living in a state of fear” due to schools’ “zero tolerance” policies that lead to students of color getting excessively suspended and expelled. Trayvon Martin lived and went to school in Miami Gardens and was in Sanford the day he was murdered because he was serving a ten-day suspension from school.
The Defenders’ occupy action has earned the support of civil rights groups like the NAACP, which is holding its national convention not far away in Orlando. The NAACP’s state chapter excused one of its directors, Dale Landry, so he could travel to Tallahassee and support the Defenders. Landry delivered a letter from the Florida NAACP president that told Gov. Scott to listen to the concerns of the organized youth.
“Parents across the state are questioning whether Stand Your Ground laws protect their children from vigilantism and racial profiling,” said Landry.
Landry also said that by Gov. Scott’s refusing to meet with the Defenders, “he is affirming the sentiment that the state places no value on the lives of black and brown youth.”
UPDATE 9:02 EST 07/18/13: Communications staff from the Advancement Project just reported to me that Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to meet with the Dream Defenders and he is in a session with them right now that began with a prayer circle. I’m told the students are telling him they do not plan to leave the state capitol until their demands concerning the Trayvon Martin Act are met. More news to come soon.