Dream Defenders Return, Call Capitol Access Rule ‘Ridiculous”
September 24, 2013
The Dream Defenders, a group that held a month-long summer encampment outside the governor’s office, returned to Tallahassee on Monday and called a proposal to limit after-hours access to the Capitol a “ridiculous” stifling of the public’s right to free speech.
However, the Hialeah-based group intends to remain focused on the difficult task of changing laws about self-defense and racial profiling rather than contesting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s proposal, which would try to spur the public to leave the Capitol by 5 p.m. on weekdays or within 30 minutes of the end of public meetings.
Those who don’t leave when requested could face trespassing charges.
FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Monday afternoon the agency continues to await approval or comment from the offices of the governor, the Senate president and the House speaker.
Dream Defenders Legal and Policy Director Ahmad Abuznaid said Monday that the proposed rule is a danger to free speech and the right to assemble.
“We feel like if we were big money and had millions of dollars to come voice our opinion to the legislators this wouldn’t be a problem,” Abuznaid said.
The stated purpose of the rule is to enable the police to better secure the Capitol complex.
The FDLE proposal would also prohibit people from staying overnight or preparing food in publicly accessible parts of the building. There would also be additional restrictions on people who have access cards to the building and how many other people who would be allowed to accompany them.
The Dream Defenders held a 31-day sit-in inside the Capitol from July 16 to Aug. 15, arriving after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford.
The FDLE has estimated the around-the-clock protest ran up a tab of $505,248 for Capitol police. The total included regular pay plus overtime, which has been put at $172,592.
“It’s a little ridiculous,” said Dream Defenders Political Director Ciara Taylor. “We’re asking for FDLE to look into discrimination, to take a deep look at racial profiling and how law enforcement connects with black and brown people across the state, and it seems like they don’t have time to do that. But they do have time to come up with a rule against taxpaying citizens of this state, basically making the Capitol inaccessible.”
The sit-in drew a steady stream of visitors, including entertainer and civil-rights veteran Harry Belafonte and rapper Talib Kweli. Another visitor was longtime activist Jesse Jackson, who touched off his own media storm by claiming that Florida practiced apartheid and comparing Gov. Rick Scott to segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace.
The Dream Defenders spent Monday afternoon training about 40 members in the Old Capitol about how to lobby legislators, who are in Tallahassee this week for the first committee meetings leading up the 2014 session.
The group remains hopeful that lawmakers will advance proposals, beyond a one-day House hearing on the “stand your ground” law that is expected in October.
Several already-filed bills are directed at the law, with a proposal (SB 130) by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, expected to have the best chance to advance.
Simmons’ proposal would require local law enforcement to issue “reasonable” guidelines for the operation of neighborhood watch programs. Zimmerman was a neighborhood-watch volunteer when he shot Martin during an altercation.
The bill closely matches part of a broader proposal (SB 122) that Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, filed to address the “stand your ground” law.