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Martin Lee Anderson inspires leader of the Florida Capitol sit-in

3:55 PM, Jul 25, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The sit-in at the Florida Capitol continues into Day 10 as protesters push for a special legislative session.

For some of them, the vigil is a sad reunion of people who led a similar protest and sit-in at the state Capitol following the death of Martin Lee Anderson in 2006.

Anderson was 14 years old when he died after being punched, kicked and choked by guards at a juvenile boot camp in Bay County.

Phillip Agnew, who now leads the Dream Defenders group conducting this sit-in, said Anderson's death transformed his whole view on life.

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In 2006, he joined student protests at the Capitol to try to change public policy and their efforts worked.

"We heard the same thing then. The governor wasn't going to move but he wound up firing a top cop in the state. He wound up closing all the boot camps in the state and bringing the guards responsible to a court of law. They were found not guilty, as we see often, but that instilled in me my belief in the power of people to move public policy and to inform public opinion," said Agnew.

He is now reunited with several friends who participated in the protests over Anderson's death.

They got back together following the death of Trayvon Martin and formed the Dream Defenders. Agnew is the only paid staffer. He said the group survives on the sheer determination of its volunteers.

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"I don't care about anything else. I care about finding a way to meet new people, build with new people and build power for people who are powerless in a real way so that's how we survive."

Agnew's father is a Chicago preacher, his mother a teacher. He sees their influence in his life every day.

"My father's belief in faith and that faith without works is dead and that where one or two are gathered together there is power and that has really informed anything that I do. The number one thing, if you do things in love and in honesty and in respect and with faith, then you will always win. I sincerely believe that with all my heart. I'm not an ideologue. I believe in doing things the correct way and maximizing my effort and maximizing the effort of all these people."

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Some believe their effort faces a monumental challenge, maybe even an impossible one, to convince Gov. Rick Scott or state lawmakers to call a special session on Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, racial profiling and juvenile justice.

But Agnew is not daunted.

"I believe we're going to win. In the rare instance that we do not get what we want, I think we've shown a determination that young people can use to fuel them. But we're going to win."

Dave Heller

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