‘Dream Defenders’ Continue sit-in in Florida’s Governor’s Office

What happens to a dream deferred?

By JAMES HARPER, Special to the NNPA from the Florida Courier | 8/6/2013, 5:02 p.m.
The group of college aged-students who have kept Florida Gov. Rick Scott out of his Tallahassee office off and on ...
Dream Defenders and their supporters protest outside Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office in the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. The sit-in is their response to the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin. They are continuing to demand Scott call a special session. AP Photo/Phil Sears

“Immediately following Trayvon Martin’s death, Gov. Scott called a bipartisan special task force with 19 citizens to review Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. This task force listened to Floridians across the state and heard their viewpoints and expert opinions on this law. The task force recommended that the law should not be overturned, and Gov. Scott agrees.”

Scott also called for “a day of prayer” throughout Florida.

A meeting

After putting them off for five days, Scott did finally meet with the Dream Defenders, only to tell them that he supported “Stand Your Ground” and had no intention of calling a special session.

After the meeting, Scott left town again, but not before sending Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters to chat with students for several hours on Aug. 22.

Dream Defenders Political Director Ciara Taylor said of Walters’ visit: “While we appreciate Secretary Walters taking the time to meet with us, we believe the time for talk has passed.

“We currently find ourselves in a state of emergency. There is a growing fear among Black and Brown young people in Florida that their lives are of little value to the state, and the governor’s unwillingness to do anything about it is disappointing to us all….

“We urge both Governor Scott and Secretary Wansley to take our calls for justice for Florida’s youth seriously and to correct the circumstances that led to the killing of Trayvon Martin last year: racial profiling, Stand Your Ground vigilantism, and the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The sit-in continued. As of the Florida Courier’s press time late Wednesday night, the Dream Defenders were still occupying the governor’s office.

Not going anywhere

Hierro said the Dream Defenders are not going anywhere, even if that means maintaining their protests at the governor’s office until March 2014 – Florida’s next regularly scheduled legislative session.

“Our goal is to put pressure on. We are going to be here until they come to the table with something.

“They keep talking about costs. What’s the cost of a human life?” Hierro said, referring to media reports that it is costing the state $5,000 a day to handle the protests.

“We are not going to sit idly by. We will move across the state and put in work on the ground,” Hierro continued.

Movement will grow

He said whenever a legislative session does convene, Dream Defenders hope to have chapters in colleges and universities across the state that will organize and apply pressure to local state representatives and senators to vote to repeal “Stand Your Ground” and address other issues, including a national call to action to stop racial profiling and end the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Within this month, we expect more engagement as students return back to school. In the fall, we expect our base to experience growth,” he said.

Hierro said they are organizers first and they are working to bring even more of their supporters to Tallahassee.

“We don’t want any more George Zimmerman’s. (We want to) stop the climate of hate and injustice,” he continued.

No leadership

Phillip Agnew, the organization’s executive director, says Scott “is not exercising real leadership.

“So we will remain here, not to retry George Zimmerman, but to express our anger and disappointment at our governor for what happened under his watch peacefully, and to provide a constructive way forward,” Agnew said.

“You cannot confront the world as it is without presenting a vision of the world as it should and could be,” Agnew stated. “We envision a way forward for a new generation of Floridians – and Americans – that acknowledges race and confronts race, but is not shackled by race. We want to provide this generation with the power and the tools to remove the barriers that stand before us.”

Melanie Andrade, president of the FAMU chapter of the Dream Defenders, added, “The governor told us when we met with him that we had big goals, big dreams. Our contention is if it isn’t big or doesn’t seem impossible at first, you can’t call it a dream.”