TALLAHASSEE -- After keeping his distance for three days, Florida Gov. Rick Scott met for about 30 minutes Thursday night with a group of young protesters who are occupying the Capitol to seek repeal of the state’s “stand your ground” law.
In the end, the protesters made their case and Scott was insistent that the self-defense law should remain on the books.
Scott, who had spent all but one of the previous seven days away from Tallahassee, flew back to the capital and met with seven members of the Dream Defenders, a statewide group of college students and young professionals. They want a review of the law widely perceived to be at the heart of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“We think ‘stand your ground’ has created a culture that allowed Zimmerman to think that what he did was okay,” said Gabriel Pendas, a founder of the protest group.
“I believe ‘stand your ground’ should stay in the books,” Scott said, taking notes on a yellow legal pad. “I agree with you, we should not have racial profiling.”
Scott called for a statewide day of prayer for unity on Sunday and talked about how he has met with Trayvon’s parents and introduced them to FDLE agents who investigated his death.
But he was firm in that he would not convene a special session of the Legislature to take up possible changes to the law. Denied by the governor, the dozens of protesters hunkered down for the night with pillows and sleeping bags across the Capitol’s marble floor. They say they won’t leave until Scott calls a special session.
The governor’s abrupt return to Tallahassee was unexpected. Earlier Thursday, he appeared at a tourism event in Tampa, promoting the Bollywood Oscars and taking one media question at an event billed by his office as a “media availability.” Later, Scott cut short a jobs roundtable at a citrus plant in Bradenton without explanation.
Scott has a well-known aversion to drama or confrontation, and his absence from Tallahassee struck some as a deliberate strategy to avoid facing a peaceful band of students.
“No more cowardice,” the Dream Defenders said of Scott on Twitter earlier Thursday.
Scott has faced student protests before.
In December 2011, FAMU students marched to the Governor’s Mansion when Scott called for the suspension of FAMU’s president after the hazing death of band member Robert Champion. In an effort to relate to his young audience, Scott told them he grew up in public housing.
“We’re not poor!” a student shouted back at Scott.
The students now occupying the Capitol, from several Florida colleges, pledge to stay until Scott calls a special legislative session to review the “stand your ground” law and the institutional racism they say persists in Florida.
A special session is highly unlikely, given the unwavering support for the 2005 law by Scott and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
Undaunted, the activists have held firm since Tuesday morning, holding workshops on social justice, living on takeout pizza and bottled water and sleeping on the Capitol’s cold floors.
Scott was in New York when the Zimmerman verdict was announced Saturday. He did not return to Tallahassee until Tuesday night and left town for Pensacola early Wednesday. He planned to spend Thursday night in the Sarasota area and visit Miami today, but changed his plans to meet with the protesters.