The “special session” protesters at Florida’s Capitol have been demanding for more than two weeks finally happened Tuesday. But, the governor and most state leaders weren’t among the participants. Demonstrators convened their own so-called “people’s session” urging reform to the state’s Stand Your Ground law.
In the crowded hallway outside the governor’s office, a group of student protestors called the Dream Defenders read a proclamation outlining the aims of their purely symbolic session. It’s the culmination of a two-week long sit-in and featured an appearance from Reverend Jesse Jackson, who compared the group to civil rights activists in the 1960s.
“Veterans, the military, blacks, my father had to sit behind Nazi POWs 50 years ago. We couldn’t use a Holiday Inn or a Howard Johnson just 50 years ago; we didn’t have the right to vote. Because of the dreamers of that day, they pulled down the curtains and made the new South greater,” Jackson said.
Jackson argued the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman is just a microcosm of a far greater problem.
“Trayvon was a canary in the mine. There are many more birds in that mine. Last year 136 African Americans unarmed, were killed in the country by police, by vigilantes, by security guards. The killing has to stop. We seek to pull down the walls,” Jackson pointed out.
Jackson is prepared to use the resources of his organization, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, to pressure Florida leaders to reform or repeal Stand Your Ground, a law he believes disproportionately affects minorities.
But most lawmakers are unimpressed by the Dream Defenders’ theatrics. Florida Senate President Don Gaetz said he sympathizes with the protester’s frustration, but since no legislation has been submitted, he’s got nothing to discuss even if there was a special session.
“To my knowledge there have been no bills filed so far. No bills have been referred to committee because it’s too early to do that. And so therefore I’m not sure what a special session would accomplish,” Gaetz asserted.
But, Tallahassee Democratic State Representative Alan Williams said he and other lawmakers have legislation ready to be submitted if they’re called back to the Capitol.
“If there was a special session I would put forth – if there was a call, I would put forth my repeal of stand your ground. I know Senator Smith is working on a much more vibrant package that he put forth last year along with additional changes,” Williams retorted.
Meanwhile Reverend Jackson planned to stay the night with the protesters at the Capitol and is calling on other civil rights leaders to visit Tallahassee.