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Politics

Tallahassee protesters end ‘stand your ground’ sit in


Published:   |   Updated: August 15, 2013 at 07:50 PM

TALLAHASSEE — They were determined to go out with a bang and not a whimper.

Activists on Thursday ended a month-long sit-in at the state Capitol and marched to the Governor’s Mansion — with reporters in tow — where they ceremonially served an “eviction notice.”

A large placard held up in front of the mansion gate read, “We the people hereby find your service ... void of legal and moral standing and revoke your tenancy herein.”

The mansion, also known as the “People’s House,” is about a mile from the Capitol. The sit-in took place in Gov. Rick Scott’s office reception area, near hallways and the plaza-level rotunda.

Around the same time as the march on the mansion, Scott tweeted an old photo showing him, with a mostly full head of hair, pushing his then-small daughters on swings.

The march ended the round-the-clock protest that made headlines internationally and attracted the likes of actor-singer Harry Belafonte, rapper Talib Kweli, and civil-rights pioneers Jesse Jackson and Julian Bond.

Bond visited the group, known as the Dream Defenders, on Thursday.

“You are ending a protest because you are starting a movement,” he said.

Earlier, Phillip Agnew, Dream Defenders’ executive director, told reporters his group was packing up and departing.

The building had been home to dozens of its members and other protesters “for 31 days and 30 nights,” he said.

“This is the last time I will sleep on this floor,” Agnew added.

Agnew announced that officials at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agreed to meet with the group to discuss racial profiling.

Representatives of the Education and Juvenile Justice departments also agreed to meetings, he added.

The protesters occupied the Florida Capitol shortly after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford.

They asked Scott to call lawmakers back to the capital to revisit the state’s “stand your ground” law and consider a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act. Scott met with them, but refused their request.

“Stand your ground” allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

Zimmerman did not invoke “stand your ground” to seek a dismissal of the charges against him, but provisions from the law were used in the instructions given to jurors.

Sit-in participants also wanted to combat zero-tolerance policies they said feed a “schools-to-prisons” pipeline.

This week, an effort to call a special session on “stand your ground” through a legislative poll fell far short.

But House Speaker Will Weatherford has said his chamber will hold a hearing this fall on the self-defense law, saying its value and effectiveness should be reviewed.

On Wednesday, Weatherford tweeted, “Not enough votes 4 SYG Special Session. FL supports self defense laws. We’re spending way too much on protest security.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Fort Walton Beach Republican who chairs the committee that will hold the hearing, tweeted Thursday that he still plans to debate Agnew on “stand your ground” next month.

Lawmakers return to Tallahassee for their first committee week on Sept. 23.

Also, state officials on Wednesday night had planned a four-hour test of the Capitol’s fire-alarm system.

“This testing will include the constant ringing of a loud, high-pitched fire alarm throughout multiple floors of the Florida Capitol Building,” said a flyer that circulated that day.

But a lightning bolt reportedly struck a building next to the Capitol, causing officials to postpone the alarm test.

On their last night, 33 protesters slept at the Capitol, according to FDLE, which oversees the Capitol Police.

As of Wednesday, the sit-in had cost more than $153,000 in police overtime, the FDLE reported. The sit-in’s total cost is expected to be released Friday.

Agnew said the group also would keep its promise to register 61,550 voters by 2014, when Scott faces re-election. The number is Scott’s margin of victory over Democratic candidate Alex Sink in 2010.

The sit-in’s conclusion means the official portraits of past governors that hung outside the governor’s office could reappear as early as Friday.

Staff members had taken them down, saying they were worried about the paintings being bumped and damaged.

jrosica@tampatrib.com

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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