The Dream Defenders have entered their sixteenth day of occupying the Florida Capitol building with support from Rev. Jesse Jackson. Gov. Rick Scott asked for an apology after Jackson made incendiary remarks.
The group also began conducting their own mock special session on Tuesday to focus attention on the trio of issues in “Trayvon’s Law.” The group, mostly black college students led by experienced professional organizers, are demanding Gov. Rick Scott call a special legislative session to address Trayvon’s Law. The Dream Defenders ongoing protest is currently one of the very few national focal points for those outraged by the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Jackson had originally contacted the group to offer his support for their agenda on Monday. He and his assistant were among over forty people who spent the night in the Capitol building in Tallahassee on Tuesday. Jackson originally met Dream Defender and SEIU field organizer Phil Agnew when the two were guests on the left news/talk program Democracy Now! on July 15.
The controversial civil rights leader Jackson was also part of protests in Sanford, Florida last year, calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman and ouster of police chief Bill Lee. The Dream Defenders were an active part of that drive as well. During that protests in Sanford, the Rev. Al Sharpton said that Sanford could become the next Selma or Birmingham as going down in civil rights infamy.
While speaking with the Dream Defenders, Jackson made similar remarks that drew the ire of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Jackson, wearing a Dream Defenders t-shirt, did a press conference with a large contingent of media present. During the remarks, Jackson referred to Florida as “the Selma of our time” and used the term “apartheid” to describe the state.
As Politico reports:
“Jesse Jackson owes every Floridian an apology for his reckless and divisive comments,” Scott said in a statement Wednesday. “It is unfortunate that he would come to Florida to insult Floridians and divide our state at a time when we are striving for unity and healing. Floridians are a strong, resilient people. We are fortunate to live in a great state where all Floridians enjoy opportunities to get a great job and world-class education.”
Jackson defended his remarks in an interview with the Associated Press, again using the phrase “apartheid like conditions” to describe Florida voting laws and incarceration rates.
Apartheid is described by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa,” and it included politically forced segregation by race, including forced removals. The state of Florida appears to have no such policy of forced racial segregation.
The appearance by Jackson is the second high-profile visit to the Dream Defenders protest in the past several days. Entertainer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte visited the group last Friday, where he blamed the Tea Party for increasing racial animus in response to a question from Breitbart News.
Also on Tuesday, the Dream Defenders with Jackson in attendance began their own “Special Session” that will continue through Friday. Over the next three days, the group will hold a mock legislative session to discuss each issue in what they refer to as Trayvon’s Law: an end to Stand Your Ground laws, police profiling, and the “school to prison pipeline.”
The group has said they will not leave the Capitol until Scott holds a special legislative session to address Trayvon’s Law.
The protest has been growing in size. Last Friday saw the group’s biggest crowd so far, with about 300 people inside the Capitol Building as the doors closed at 5 PM. The Dream Defenders say they expect another large crowd for this Friday’s “mass mobilization” and have implied that the protest could get even bigger when college students return to Tallahassee schools like Florida State University and Florida A&M University in just a few weeks.
Gov. Scott briefly met with the group about ten days ago but did not agree to the group’s demands, instead calling for statewide day of prayer.