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'Stand Your Ground' Standoff Continues into Second Week

July 22, 2013 - 6:00pm

Gov. Rick Scott and protesters camped outside his Capitol office continue to stand their separate ground.

Scott reiterated Monday, before leaving Tallahassee for an event in Southeast Florida, that there will be no special session to review the state's controversial Stand Your Ground law, a view supported by Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

Meanwhile, members of the Dream Defenders, a student-led group that has protested at the Capitol since last Tuesday, said they're busy making plans for the rest of this week and beyond after Scott sent Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters to chat with students for several hours Monday.

Jacksonville resident Ciara Taylor, a member of the Dream Defenders, said that while they hope Scott changes his mind, they already have plans to be joined later this week by state and national civil rights groups.

"There are things that happen every day, people who change their minds every day for the better, and we can only hope that Governor Scott wakes up, very soon," Taylor said while Walters continued to talk with the protesters.

The protesters, many students, started 100 strong last Tuesday. Over the weekend, 24 remained in a first-floor hallway of the Capitol, outside Scott's office, under the watch of Capitol police.

While the Dream Defenders say they will remain at the Capitol until a special legislative session is called on the Stand Your Ground law, Scott maintained that he has no intention to bring back lawmakers or to change his support for the measure, which passed in 2005.

"They've asked for something that, you know, I'm not going to do, I'm not going to call a special session," Scott said after meeting with Walters early Monday at the Department of Juvenile Justice headquarters in Tallahassee.

The protest was sparked by the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the February 2012 shooting death of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin. Though Zimmerman's attorneys did not use a Stand Your Ground defense, the Sanford case has led to a national debate about the law.

Asked about the debate and a negative portrayal of Florida by critics of the law, Scott responded, "We have a great state." After the meeting, Scott was scheduled to fly to Port St. Lucie for an afternoon economic affairs round-table at Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies.

Walters said her intention was to hear the concerns of the students and share what her agency is doing.

In addition to their opposition to the Stand Your Ground law, the students have tried to leverage the state and national attention -- there were 17 members of the media on hand as Walters met with about 30 protesters -- to discuss other juvenile justice laws, such as a zero-tolerance policy in schools.

"Had it not been for Trayvon Martin being suspended from school, he would not have been in Sanford that weekend," Taylor said.

At the time of the shooting, Martin was serving an out-of-school suspension, as part of his school district's zero-tolerance policy, due to a marijuana possession charge.

Taylor said Walters' appearance at the Capitol should be considered a small victory for the Dream Defenders.

"We didn't ask her to come, but if we can have her listen to stories from black and brown youth that are being affected by the initiatives that DJJ are putting out, then it's a win, it's an unexpected win," Taylor said. "It's not every day you're able to have someone in such a key leadership position talk with the people that are affected."

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