‘Dream Defenders’ kick off 2013 session with protestby Dara Kam | March 5th, 2013
A coalition of students carrying signs and chanting “The state is ours” protested Tuesday morning laying out their agenda and creating a disruption in the historically celebratory advent of the 60-day legislative session highlighted by Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State speech.
The “Dream Defenders,” made up of students from several Florida universities and backed by the SEIU, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center, are demanding that lawmakers repeal or reform of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law and the elimination of “zero tolerance” policies in public schools.
The group chanted and sang on the fourth floor rotunda as the opening day ceremonies began in advance of Scott’s joint address.
The group organized in response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, last year. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense, but a judge has not yet decided if the law allowing people to use deadly force when they feel threatened applies in Zimmerman’s case. The law allows provides immunity from prosecution or arrest.
“Even today the life of a black boy or brown boy in this state is worth less than the bullet lodged in his chest,” Dream Defenders executive director Phillip Agnew, a Florida A&M University graduate who lives in Miami, said at a press conference surrounded by dozens of supporters wearing black T-shirts imprinted with “Can We Dream Together?” in white.
Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz, all Republicans, have said they support the Stand Your Ground law, but Democratic lawmakers have filed a slew of bills that would amend or repeal it.
But Agnew said he thinks the national attitude towards guns has changed in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings.
“We want a repeal. We’ll settle for a reform. The confines of that law are loose. If you create any bit of fear in me, I’m sorry ma’am, I can take you out,” Agnew said. “I don’t believe anybody any person in here believes that was the law was supposed to be and certainly not lack and brown people.”
The group will maintain a presence in the Capitol throughout the session, Agnew said.
“This is just a starting point for us. We’ll be here throughout the session…to ensure that some of these things pass.”