The Dream Defenders Press On For “Trayvon’s Law” Even As Florida Lawmakers Call For Hearings On Stand Your Ground
Well it certainly looks like the public pressure is getting to Florida lawmakers as late last week, state legislative leaders announced that it will hold hearings this fall on the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which was cited in the George Zimmerman murder case.
Although no official date for the hearings has been set, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford vowed to conduct a complete review of the state’s SYG laws in order to determine its effectiveness. In a column published last Thursday in the Tampa Tribune, Weatherford said that while the planned SYG hearings will not be guided by “political expediency,” he did say the public was a motivation behind the hearings.
“I was not in the Florida Legislature when the bill became law with bipartisan support, but as the current speaker of the House, I have been asked to repeal it. “Asked” is a generous term considering the threats of boycotts, union-sponsored protesters overtaking the governor’s office and Hollywood elites disparaging our state and threatening the livelihood of hard-working Floridians,” he writes.
When asked for comment in regards to the reports about the upcoming planned hearings, Ciara Taylor, political director for the Dream Defenders, the youth-based, anti-racial profiling group currently staging a sit-in at the Florida State Capital building, told MadameNoire the following:
“Ultimately they’re still ignoring the root of the issue, at least in terms of the Zimmerman verdict, and that is the criminalization of our youth, the way that young people are looked at in Florida, black, white and brown, and that’s due to the school-to-prison pipeline and racial profiling that’s perpetuated throughout law enforcement. Until racial profiling or the school-to-prison pipeline is addressed, there will be no true justice in this state.”
It might seem hard to understand why the Dream Defenders wouldn’t feel more victorious about the recent announcement. That is, of course, until you consider the fact that the hearings are being chaired by Republican State Rep. Matt Geatz, who is described by the Tampa Tribune as a “tough on crime” talker and staunch supporter of Stand Your Ground. In fact, in the wake of the hearing announcement, Rep. Geatz told the Tribune, “I don’t support changing one damn comma of the ‘stand your ground’ law…It would be reactionary and dangerous to make Floridians less safe to pacify uninformed protesters.”
In an earlier interview, conducted prior to the hearings’ announcement, Taylor told MadameNoire that the Dream Defenders are pressing on with efforts to get a special session called in order to get Trayvon’s Law enacted. The proposed law, which essentially is a package of three bills currently being drafted by the Dream Defenders, aims to achieve three goals: to repeal Stand Your Ground; to divert children entering the juvenile justice system through the school-to-prison pipeline; and to address the racial profiling policies in law enforcement. Taylor said that the group expects to have a bill completely finished by the end of this week and will be submitting it the state legislative for review. She also said that the group will be looking for sponsors.
Taylor said that the Dream Defenders have been working in collaboration with a number of youth-based organizations including the Urban Youth Collaborative, as well as with the NAACP, which last week also introduced a set of Trayvon’s Laws that it will be championing across the country. Taylor said that the group has been hearing lots of positive responses from lawmakers in Florida as well as those in SYG states across the country who expressed interest in seeing if Trayvon’s Laws could be duplicated in their municipalities. Says Taylor:
“What we are doing now is in response to the Governor’s refusal to call a special legislative session. We’ve actually done the process for a The Citizen Initiative, which has never been done in the state of Florida. It’s been kind of a long process because we had to draft the language ourselves for the letter and the letter is kind of a ‘Letter of Support’ that 32 legislators have to sign and submit to the Secretary of State in Florida to begin the polling process to see if 50 percent of legislators would be willing to call a special legislative session. And we put the word out that we needed 32 legislatures and within a day and a half we have 34 who have verbally committed to [signing] it.”
In preparation for a possible special legislative session, last week the Dream Defenders held the People’s Hearings at the State Capital, which heard expert and first-account witness testimony to how racial profiling, stand your ground laws and the school-to-prison pipeline has impacted the lives of young black and brown people all across the nation. Taylor said that the testimony gathered in the People’s Hearings will be submitted before the legislative sessions as reasons for why the SYG law should be repealed.
“Let’s remember that the reason why we have all these hearings is because we demanded that the state legislators have a special hearing on these issues. And we’ve done all the usual tactics that we are supposed to use: we’ve registered people to vote; we’ve got people out to vote. We’ve even participated actively in legislative sessions this past year. We have bills related to the prison pipeline and Stand Your Ground bills that we outline and supported in these sessions, but lawmakers weren’t listening. They weren’t listening to the kids we brought up to share their stories. They weren’t listening to the parents of the children affected by it and they weren’t listening to experts from other organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. So what happens with the People’s Hearing is that we gave the people a platform to express their concerns with these issues.”
Currently there are 30 college students and young professionals camped out inside of the Florida State Capital building, however, that number shifts daily as students between classes and other rights groups often come join them throughout the day for protests and rallies. Taylor said that the Dream Defenders plan to be there for the long haul, including during their annual congress, which is expected to attract young adults from across the country in mid-August for hosting strategy and community leading workshops.