Dream Defenders return to Florida Capitol

When their 31-day occupation of the Florida Capitol ended last month, the young activists known as the Dream Defenders vowed to continue their fight for Trayvon’s Law.

They made good on that promise this week.

The Miami-based group trekked to Tallahassee to shape the three-part legislative proposal, named for slain Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin. They also worked to build support among lawmakers, who were in town for a flurry of committee meetings.

“This is a long-term fight for us,” said Phillip Agnew, the Dream Defenders’ 28-year-old executive director.

The Dream Defenders began their month-long demonstration in July, after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted in Martin’s death in Sanford. The group refused to leave the Capitol unless Gov. Rick Scott called a special legislative session to address the Stand Your Ground self-defense law, which factored into the Zimmerman case.

Scott declined, prompting a core group of about 30 college students and young professionals to begin sleeping outside his office.

The Dream Defenders left only after House Speaker Will Weatherford agreed to hold a hearing on Stand Your Ground. The group also got commitments for meetings from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Both departments followed through, Agnew said. But as of this week, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee had not yet scheduled a hearing on Stand Your Ground.

House spokesman Ryan Duffy said he expected the hearing to take place “later this fall.”

Ciara Taylor, the Dream Defenders’ political director, said she was disappointed by the lack of a firm date.

“It’s very unfortunate that [Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Matt Gaetz] will not give us a date so we can get ready,” Taylor said.

In the meantime, the Dream Defenders have shifted their focus to the three bills that they say make up Trayvon’s Law.

The first proposal, filed by state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, would repeal Stand Your Ground. The others seek to end some zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools and racial profiling by police officers. State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and state Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, have agreed to sponsor the proposals, respectively.

The Dream Defenders know it will be tough to push the proposals through the Republican-dominated Legislature.

“We haven’t really heard anything from [Republicans] if they would support Trayvon’s Law,” Taylor said, noting that the group had only just begun reaching out to conservatives in the House.

But Bullard predicted some of their ideas would find support in the more moderate Senate.

“Some of those pillars will see movement,” he said.

The group has already left its mark on Tallahassee — albeit an idea the Dream Defenders never envisioned or endorsed. Since their departure, the state Department of Law Enforcement has proposed a new rule prohibiting overnight stays in the Capitol, and requiring all non-employees to leave the building after 5 p.m. unless legislative or executive meetings are taking place.

The new security plan must be approved by the Senate president, House speaker, and governor.

The FDLE spent $172,592.88 on overtime costs during the Dream Defenders’ protest, according to department records.

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at