(Tallahassee Democrat) Dream Defenders activists, after 31 days occupying the governor's office, are ending their round-the-clock protest.
With leadership, and the majority of the Republican-controlled state Legislature, unanimous that Florida's Stand Your Ground law needs no revision, activists in Tallahassee are packing up their bedrolls and pillows and saying goodbye to the marble halls of the Florida Capitol.
Phillip Agnew executive director of the Dream Defenders, the lead group in the month-long protest, announced Thursday the immediate fight was over.
"I'm proud to announce that our work and power has grown too big for these halls. This is the last time I will sleep on this floor. This isn't the last time you will hear from the Dream Defenders. We are indeed leaving the Capitol for our next phase," Agnew said.
Agnew said with all three avenues of reconvening the Legislature unsuccessful, the opening of conversations with agency officials at the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Education and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about working toward policy change would end the constant occupation of the Florida Capitol.
He added that after House Speaker Will Weatherford agreed to hear proposed legislation at a Sept. 23 House Criminal Justice Committee meeting, and similar agreement from Chair Rep. Matt Gaetz, the real discussions can begin.
On Wednesday, a poll of lawmakers about special session rejected the prospect. Scott and House and Senate presiding officers previously declined the protesters' demand for a special session.
With area university students returning though in the coming days, periodic demonstrations with a fresh crop of activists leading up to September will continue.
What started as a push for Scott to call a specials session of the Legislature to address Florida's Stand Your Ground law, among other issues, escalated into a prolonged occupation and ended in 83 state lawmakers casting a decision not to call the legislature.
At times, more than 100 demonstrators have spent the night inside the Capitol, their demonstration punctuated by the regular appearance of civil rights leaders the likes of former Atlanta Mayor and former NAACP president Julian Bond, Harry Belafonte, Jesse Jackson, NAACP Florida State Conference President Adora Obi Nweze and musician Talib Kweli. The poll of lawmakers for a special session attracted 37 Democratic members in favor.
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The next time the issue will officially come up is next month's legislative committee meetings.
Dream Defenders and others gathered just three days after George Zimmerman's was found not-guilty by a Seminole County jury in the death of 17-year-old Miami teen Trayvon Martin.
While Zimmerman's lawyers did not seek a Stand Your Ground immunity hearing, elements of the law were a part of the case. Judge Debra Nelson did include Stand Your Ground wording in the instructions to the six-member jury.
While Dream Defenders members continue to seek to change Florida's self-defense laws, the group has also taken aim at squashing legislation that they say puts kids out of school and into the criminal justice system and disproportionately targets minorities.
"Our goal when we came here was to lay out a demand, to come to the table," Agnew said. "What we've said from the beginning is this is an opportunity to approach that table an engage in a dialogue with the governor."
The governor did meet with seven activists in a night-time meeting just three days after the sit-in began. He stood by the panel's recommendation, reiterating his previous stance against addressing the state's justifiable self-defense statue.
Scott stood by the recommendation of a 19-member panel that, after examining Stand Your Ground, thought the law needed to remain, unchanged.
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Despite that recommendation, they did submit eight recommendations for altering the 2005 law.