TALLAHASSEE - Dozens of protesters carrying signs demanding justice for Trayvon Martin crammed into the lobby of Gov. Rick Scott's office Tuesday and refused to leave until the governor either met with them or called lawmakers back to the Capitol to address issues like the state's "stand your ground" law.
Neither was likely to happen soon. Scott was in New York City. And his office issued a statement saying the governor supports the law that neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman used as a defense before being acquitted Saturday of a murder charge in the 17-year-old Martin's death. The protesters were preparing to spend the night in Capitol rotunda.
The group marched to the governor's office in the morning, doing a call-and-response chant of "Whose world is this? This world is ours!"
"We're here to see Governor Rick Scott," Melanie Andrade told the governor's receptionist as the group arrived. When the receptionist explained Scott was not in town and offered to take a message, Andrade said, "No, ma'am, we'll wait."
With that, the group took seats on the chairs, sofa and floor of the office and began singing together.
"We who believe in freedom will not leave," they sang at one point. In the hallway outside the office a line of men held a large banner that read, "END RACIAL OPPRESSION JUSTICE4TRAYVON"
The group's members said they wanted Scott to call a special session to address "the stand your ground" law, racial profiling and zero-tolerance policies in schools that they believe disproportionally harm blacks. The "stand your ground" law allows the use of deadly force if someone feels his life is in danger. Zimmerman shot Martin, who was unarmed, during a February 2012 confrontation in Sanford. Zimmerman said he fired his gun in self-defense because Martin was beating him up.
"We will remain here, standing our ground, for Trayvon, for justice, until our demands are met," said Ciara Taylor, 24, of Jacksonville.
Scott spokesman Melissa Sellers said his office appreciates the right for people to assemble and state their view, but she was clear that Scott doesn't intend to seek changes to the law.
She said right after Martin's death, Scott formed a bi-partisan Special Task Force with 19 citizens to review the law.
"This task force listened to Floridians across the state and heard their viewports and expert opinions on this law. The task force recommended that the law should not be overturned, and Governor Scott agrees," she said through an email.
During a speech at a NAACP convention in Orlando Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder strongly criticized stand-your-ground laws. Apart from the Zimmerman case, Holder said "it's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods." The attorney general said the country must take a hard look at laws that contribute to "more violence than they prevent."
At the Capitol, after about five hours, 20 pizzas and cases of water were brought in for the protesters. Organizer Gabriel Pendas, 29, of Miami, said more meals would be brought in for Wednesday and the rest of the week, if necessary.
"The governor has a choice to make whether or not he responds to us. Part of what has to happen here is that we have to make him respond," Pendas said. "This has to grow and we're all going to have to take some responsibility for making that grow."
At the end of the business day, the protesters began moving out of the Scott's office lobby and into the hallway. Capitol police were allowing the protesters to stay overnight, but were not letting them back in the building if they left after 5 p.m. They were also not letting food be delivered after that time. About 30 protesters remained after the Capitol closed.
It marks the second time that there has been a protest at the state Capitol since the verdict was announced. Roughly 200 assembled at the Capitol early Sunday morning.
Some legislators recommended making changes to the law, but those bills went nowhere this past session in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
One lawmaker who wanted to repeal the law walked through the rotunda and handed out water and soda to protesters.
"The governor should meet with them," said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. "We're going to continue to promote the repeal of stand your ground."