Conservatives who have argued that the Dream Defenders’ activism in Tallahassee, Florida wasn’t going to achieve anything may have underestimated to ability of mainstream Republicans to erode under pressure.
Last week, the group Dream Defenders announced “Takeover Tuesday” in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the self-defense shooting of Trayvon Martin. Dozens of mostly black college students and a handful of seasoned organizers began a civil disobedience campaign demanding a special legislative session to consider a rollback of Stand Your Ground laws, an end to police profiling, and an overhaul of what they call the “criminalization of youth.”
The following Monday–day seven of the occupation of the Florida Capitol building by the group’s members–Gov. Rick Scott showed a small sign of conciliation by sending Wansley Walters, the politically appointed Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, to meet with the group.
The group did not hear about the meeting until Gov. Scott announced it on Twitter Monday morning, and Mrs. Walters indicated in the discussion that it came as a surprise to her, as well. Breitbart News spoke exclusively with Dream Defender’s Executive Director Phillip Agnew just prior to the meeting:
Mrs. Walters spent over an hour listening to and talking with the skeptical members of the Dream Defenders. Walters said that she agreed with many of the Dream Defenders’ goals for avoiding the “criminalization of youth” but by and large failed to convince members that she was working as hard as possible to bring those goals into reality. One speaker told Walters bluntly, “I don’t trust you.” Others expressed varying degrees of disbelief as well. As WTSB reported:
Walters insisted her department was working to reform the juvenile justice system. She said she supports an expansion of the use of civil citations for youths across Florida.
Under civil citation, a youth who commits a misdemeanor can avoid arrest and get intervention services. The idea is to prevent them from ending up deeper in the criminal justice system.
But when Walters admitted some police departments don’t like civil citations because it takes away some of their power to decide how to handle situations, Ciara Taylor jumped in.
“Are you trying to protect the police officers or are you trying to protect the children who are our future?”
Gov. Scott’s impromptu olive branch wasn’t the only small victory for the Dream Defenders. On Monday morning, some of the group were also abuzz from the news that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told CNN’s Candy Crowley on the show State of the Union that he was joining President Barack Obama in calling for a review of Stand Your Ground laws, saying, “I can also see that Stand Your Ground laws may be something that needs to be reviewed by the Florida legislature or any other legislature that has passed such legislation.”
The group remains in the Capitol building as the protest heads into its eighth day, and even after being locked in with no air conditioning for the weekend, morale remains high.