For the second year, a group dubbed the “Dream Defenders” greeted the opening day of the legislative session with loud protests on the fourth floor of the state Capitol.
The group camped out in the area between the House and Senate chambers, forcing Senators to walk between them to listen to Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State speech in the House chamber.
The fourth floor rotunda, usually the home of lobbyists mulling about while the House or Senate are in session, rang loud with chants of “I believe we will win” and “We’re staying, we’re staying for Trayvon.”
The group gained national attention over the summer when it organized a month-long sit-in at Gov. Rick Scott’s reception area after George Zimmerman was acquitted of shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black high school student.
The verdict sparked calls for the repeal of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which was included in the jury’s instructions.
Among other things, the group has supported repeal of that law, and changes to juvenile sentencing laws, which they say create a “school-to-prison” pipeline.
“I always wanted to be an activist; this is very radical,” said Jacques Jean-Pierre, a 25-year-old Florida State University senior.
“This is a nonviolent protest. We’re not fighting. We’re not trying to do anything crazy. We’re just trying to get what we deserve – freedom.”
Jean-Pierre was one of dozens of students who participated in the rally.
The floor shook as the group jumped and chanted. Some lawmakers greeted the members of the group as they walked toward the House chambers.
Jean-Pierre, who didn’t take part in the summer takeover of Scott’s office, said lawmakers “have no choice” but to listen to the group.
“They came out here to silence us, but we’re still here,” he said. “They tried to kick us out of the building, but we’re still here.”