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Civil rights activist Harry Belafonte fires up Florida Capitol protesters

9:21 PM, Jul 26, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Civil rights activist and actor Harry Belafonte predicts the ongoing protest at the Florida Capitol will grow bigger, stronger and help galvanize a movement that could use "the power of nonviolence" to shut down the state of Florida if Gov. Scott refuses to call a special legislative session.

Belafonte visited the state Capitol on Friday and the 86-year-old icon was greeted as a hero by about 200 protesters. They crowded into the hallway outside Gov. Rick Scott's office for what became the largest and loudest rally of the 11-day protest.

Members of the Dream Defenders unfurled a mock proclamation calling a special session to consider repealing Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, rules for racial profiling and changes to the juvenile justice system.

Gov. Scott has steadfastly refused to call a special session, saying he supports the state's Stand Your Ground law and sees no need to change it.

So now the Dream Defenders are taking action to try to call a special session with a rarely used tactic.

Normally, special sessions can only be called by the governor or by an agreement between the House speaker and Senate President.

But there's a third method in which 20 percent of the Legislature, or 32 lawmakers, can sign a petition to poll all legislators. If 60 percent agree to a special session, then it would be held.

Dream Defender Ciara Taylor says 28 lawmakers have agreed to sign the petition so far.

Belafonte says the world is watching the Florida Capitol right now and he wants to support the Dream Defenders' effort, not only with money and fundraising, but with the global focus that his support would bring.

Belafonte says he thinks America is going backwards on civil rights and that deeply disturbs him.

He said the trial of George Zimmerman provided one example.

"I think there's a cultural conspiracy on race. I really do. The very fact that the court at the hearing for Mr. Zimmerman refused to let race be part of the plea, part of the discourse, says an awful lot to the rest of us that America is shutting its door on the bigger truth."

Belafonte offered a message to Gov. Scott, urging him to act on a special now while the issues are still being discussed in a "very peaceful, calm, productive way."

Belafonte said if Scott continues to resist that call, the campaign will get stronger and Florida will become "less governable".

"We know how to stop the machine and I think the last thing that the governor and this Legislature would want to see is that the state of Florida comes to a grinding halt. That's in the offering."

Asked if that would include violence to shut down the state, Belafonte scolded a reporter for even suggesting that idea. He said it would not take violence to make the state ungovernable, but protesters could make that happen with the power of nonviolence, as well as the organization of young people and minorities.

The Dream Defenders' leader Phillip Agnew said Florida has created an environment with its self-defense laws and juvenile justice system that led to the death of Trayvon Martin and the protest aims to change the system for the sake of children and their future.

"We issue the most American of values to petition our government when we feel a wrong or a grievance has been done unto us and the governor has shown no leadership. We've been in the Capitol for over 240 hours and he's been here one."

Dave Heller

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