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Two immovable forces stand off at the Florida Capitol

4:35 PM, Jul 19, 2013   |    comments
Phillip Agnew of the Dream Defenders says the group will not be silenced as it works for change in Florida's self defense laws.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Members of the Dream Defenders holding a sit-in at the Florida Capitol are determined to remain there, even though Gov. Rick Scott has rejected their request for a special legislative session.

On Friday, they were joined by the Florida NAACP for a rally outside the Capitol. Both groups called on Gov. Scott to reconsider his decision not to call a special session on civil rights following the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

One of the demands from protesters is to repeal Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, passed in 2005. It allows people to use deadly force in public if they feel a serious threat to their safety.

Gov. Scott rejected that request Thursday night, saying he does not think the law needs any changes.

The president of the Florida NAACP, Adora Obi Nweze, urged protesters to keep up their vigil at the Capitol until Gov. Scott relents.

"Let me tell you something. There are ways that you can bring pressure through pushing and it's called consistency because they want you to leave. They don't want you here every day. That's what we got to do. Be a nuisance to the state until they say yes."

Even as Nweze encouraged them to remain at the Capitol, the Dream Defenders were making plans to sleep inside the building this weekend.

That will cost the Florida Department of Law Enforcement more money, but FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey agreed to allow the protesters inside throughout the weekend.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the sit-in will require Capitol Police to more than double its staff for the weekend. Asked about the cost for the extra security, Plessinger said those numbers are in the process of being tallied.

Nweze clearly spelled out what the groups expect from Gov. Scott and state lawmakers.

"Stand Your Ground laws must go. That's one sentence. Period. We're calling for a special legislative session to end Stand Your Ground. If Florida laws allow for the acquittal of a man who shot and killed an unarmed teenager, then it is the laws that must be changed. The protests will continue in Tallahassee and throughout the state until a special session is called."

The protesters also want a special session to consider new rules for police on racial profiling. And they're pushing for changes to zero-tolerance policies in schools, which they say direct too many minority students into the justice system and prison.

Phillip Agnew of the Dream Defenders vowed the group will not be silenced, stopped or co-opted.

"We are here to prevent any more instances like the one we saw on a rainy night in Sanford a year ago and we are here to produce a solution."

Agnew said Gov. Scott is showing an uncompromising attitude toward the Dream Defenders' demands and now they are "excited to see" what happens when two immovable forces meet at the Florida Capitol.

Also Friday, Gov. Scott issued a proclamation for a Day of Prayer for Unity in Florida on Sunday.

Here is the proclamation:

"WHEREAS, the people of Florida are strong and optimistic people who band together in times of crisis; and

"WHEREAS, Florida has faced many challenges before - including natural disasters - with a spirit of unity and perseverance; and

"WHEREAS, the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is a tragedy; and the Martin family, the family of George Zimmerman, and all those affected by Trayvon's death remain in our thoughts and prayers; and

"WHEREAS, emotions are running high as we continue to grieve the loss of Trayvon and the toll that the tragic events surrounding his death have taken on the community of Sanford, Florida, and other communities across our state; and

"WHEREAS, tragic events compel us to a time of deep reflection and prayer to find strength and peace in uncertainty; and

"WHEREAS, Floridians are unified in not only their resilience, but also in being a people of great humility, kindness, and compassion;

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, Rick Scott, Governor of the State of Florida, do hereby declare Sunday, July 21, 2013, as a STATEWIDE DAY OF PRAYER FOR UNITY IN FLORIDA."

Dave Heller

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