Harry Belafonte joins Dream Defenders' Executive Director on Chris Hayes' show, 'All In'
Harry Belafonte joins Dream Defenders' Executive Director Phillip Agnew on Chris Hayes' show, 'All In.' (Video screen capture)

Reverend Jesse Jackson announced his support of the Dream Defenders today, the latest in a string of high-profile affiliations, which includes entertainment and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte.

The Dream Defenders are leading a push to repeal Stand Your Ground laws, address racial profiling, and launch a national discussion on issues catalyzed by George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman was found not guilty of the second degree and manslaughter charges related to the case and says he shot Martin in self-defense.

On this, the fifteenth day of the Dream Defenders’ sit-in at the Florida Capitol building, protestors continue to press state lawmakers to address these issues.

Jackson announced plans to stay overnight with the protestors, stating to the Grio that, “The Rainbow Push Coalition is mobilizing elected officials in support of these student movements. Too many people in Florida are disenfranchised.”

The Dream Defenders formed as an organization when Zimmerman’s case first began to gain national attention about six weeks after the death of the Florida teen in February 2012.  Funding derives from donations, mostly funneled through the Dream Defenders’ website.

“We’re not here for the theater. We want action,” Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew told theGrio on Monday. While protesting with twenty students and young professionals in the halls of the Florida State Capitol outside Governor Rick Scott’s office, Agnew shared the future of his organization’s movement.

Background and update on the Defenders

The Capitol sit-in began two days after a jury of six women, five white and one Puerto Rican, found George Zimmerman innocent on July 13.

Although the Dream Defenders said they are currently negotiating with Florida lawmakers about their demands, Scott has not conceded their initial request for a special legislative session to address Stand Your Ground laws.

No fewer than 15 protestors stay overnight every day in response to these developments, Agnew said. Overnight protestors sleep on sheets, because the Capitol will not permit sleeping bags or air mattresses to be used.

Agnew counted nearly 150 overnight protestors one evening. The group also has thousands of followers on social media.

Over the weekend, a Capitol staffer reportedly tried to bring food for protestors (who are cut off from the public outside business hours), but the staffer felt intimidated by authorities and never made it through.

This prompted reports that Gov. Scott was attempting to starve the protestors into submission, reports denied by authorities.

Yet, when the Capitol reopened to the public on Monday, the activists were able to bring food in. They will restock with enough food for weekend hours to avoid any future confrontations.

Drafting “Trayvon’s Law”

Those camped inside the Capitol intend to hold their own week-long session in the hallways of the Senate chambers to draft “Trayvon’s Law,” legislation they feel will help redress the perceived social injustices highlighted by the verdict.

Trayvon’s Law has three pillars. First, is the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws in Florida, which sanction the use of deadly force against a possibly deadly threat without the obligation to retreat.

Second, is an end to racial profiling by police coupled with preventative training and disciplinary procedures that curtail it.

The third pillar would end Florida’s zero-tolerance school policing policy. The Dream Defenders say these school policing standards contribute to what activists call the “school to prison pipeline,” a phenomenon whereby young people of color find themselves more quickly and easily incarcerated than others.

According to the Sun Sentinel, Florida leads in more school-based arrests than any other state. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice reported that more than 12,000 Florida students were arrested approximately 14,000 times last year in public schools. Although black students comprise 23 percent of Florida’s school population, they make up 47 percent of arrests.

The Dream Defenders’ session will host community experts and testimonies from young people who have been most affected by these issues.

Travyon’s Law versus the Trayvon Martin Act

Their efforts do not dovetail with those of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, which is calling for legislatures to implement the Trayvon Martin Act.

Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, advocated for this act in a speech before the Congressional Black Caucus at a hearing last Wednesday to address the state of black men in America. The act would amend states’ Stand Your Ground laws, making it illegal for people who initiated aggression to act in self-defense.