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Dream Defenders return to Florida Capitol following historic summer vigil

7:28 PM, Sep 25, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Dream Defenders, who staged a 31-day sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott's office this summer, are back in Tallahassee to push for legislation prompted by the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

In July, the student activists mounted a so-called "Takeover Florida" campaign at the Capitol. It called for the repeal of Florida's Stand Your Ground law, changes in school discipline policies and greater focus on racial profiling.

Their round-the-clock vigil at the Capitol, and longest ever, was an unconventional approach that gained international attention. But the effort did not persuade state leaders to change any policies.

Now they are pursuing a more conventional approach through Florida's legislative system. They're working with several state lawmakers on three bills known as "Trayvon's Law."

The package of legislation targets what they see as racial disparities in police enforcement, on the use of the Stand Your Ground law and in school suspension policies.

"Sen. Dwight Bullard has agreed to sponsor the school-to-prison pipeline bill that would repeal zero-tolerance policies, as well as enact policies that will prevent children from being taken out of the classroom and put into detention facilities," said Ciara Taylor of the Dream Defenders.

Members of the group cited statistics showing schools across Florida are suspending students at a much higher rate -- 118,000 more students last year compared to 20 years ago -- and black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students.

They offered another figure illustrating that Florida schools are using suspensions too often: 4,110 kindergarten and Pre-K students were suspended last year.

On Stand Your Ground, they reiterated their view that the law is flawed and cited an investigation that found more than 70 percent of defendants who invoked the law in Florida faced no penalty when the victim was a black person.

"Some form of Stand Your Ground laws exist in 31 states. In all states where Stand Your Ground laws have passed, there was a near doubling of justifiable homicides," said Ahmad Abuznaid of the Dream Defenders.

Florida's Legislature is controlled by Republicans and they have been staunch supporters of the Stand Your Ground law, so they will control the fate of the Dream Defenders' legislative package.

Taylor says the group has started lobbying Republican lawmakers on the issue and members are prepared to continue fighting for their agenda for years to come.


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