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Reporter James L. Rosica covers state government from the Tribune's Tallahassee bureau. Email
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It ain’t over till it’s over: Capitol protesters dig in for long stay
Posted Jul 18, 2013 by James L. Rosica
Updated Jul 18, 2013 at 10:48 PM
To paraphrase one Dream Defender, if power concedes nothing without a demand, Thursday night was the demand.
After saying he wouldn’t do so, Florida Gov. Rick Scott made an unexpected return to Tallahassee to meet with representatives of the Dream Defenders, the protest group occupying the state Capitol since Tuesday.
Scott has been traveling on official business both out of state and in the state this week.
After a nearly hour-long meeting, the protest’s leaders came out empty-handed, saying Scott had not agreed to call lawmakers back to the capital for a special session on the state’s Stand Your Ground law. The group had also asked for a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act, named after the slain Florida teen.
“It did not end the way we wanted it to,” said Phillip Agnew, the group’s executive director, appearing on a live Internet video stream.
Agnew said he and dozens of others would continue their sit-in until Scott agrees to a special session, and implored others to pressure their elected representatives.
“Don’t fight the power; be the power,” he said. “It’s a sad day when at the heart of a state, you can find Disney World, a place where dreams come true, and that’s the only place in Florida where that happens.”
Protesters have been sleeping on the floor but do have access to public restrooms. The Capitol closes at 5 p.m. Friday and does not reopen until 8 a.m. Monday.
Capitol Police, which patrols the buildings and grounds around the clock, have said those who leave outside of business hours will not be let back in and food delivery people will not be allowed in after hours. One protester said, “We have plenty of food.”
Scott released a statement late Thursday, saying he asked to meet with the protesters after speaking with Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother.
The governor repeated that he agreed with the state’s Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, which recommended no changes in the law. “I also reminded them of their right to share their views with their state legislators and let them know their opinions on the law,” Scott said.
“I also told them that I plan to call for a Statewide Day of Prayer for Unity in Florida this Sunday, July 21st,” he added. “We have a great state with wonderful, resilient people that rise to meet any challenge. While emotions run high, it is even more important that we join together to strengthen and support one another.”
Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, issued a statement after the meeting, saying those at the Capitol were not there “just for a brief conversation with the governor. They’re protesting because they rightfully believe the streets of our state are not safe for them under a Stand Your Ground law that is unjust and should be repealed.”
“...I believe Floridians should continue to stand their ground until a special session is held and a vote is taken to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law,” he added.
Williams introduced a bill to repeal the law this past legislative session, but it did not get heard. Other Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, are joining in the call for a special session.
Before the livestream went to black, Dream Defenders spokesman Steven Pargett looked into the camera and made a simple request: “We need more people.”