AFRICANGLOBE – Civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson commented on the Trayvon Martin-inspired protesters occupying the Florida Capitol Tuesday, labeling Florida’s political environment “toxic” and likening Gov. Rick Scott to the late segregationist George Wallace.
Jackson planned to spend the night with the protesters who are in the midst of their third week of sitting in Scott’s office, demanding that he call a special session to repeal Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground” law.
Though initially cited by supporters of Neighborhood Watch vigilante George Zimmerman, the law wasn’t an element in the trial earlier this month that saw Zimmerman acquitted of shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 16-year-old, in a Sanford gated community.
Jackson said the controversial law was part of a broader discriminatory system against minorities, including voter-disenfranchisement.
“Stand your ground laws must end,” Jackson told reporters. “The manipulation of African-Americans here is disgraceful.”
Jackson’s visit was part of a broader publicity effort Tuesday in which dozens of “Dream Defender” protesters declared they were calling their own “People’s Session” to oppose the law, and staged a mock session in the Old Capitol.
“Our role as citizens is not to abide by governance but to step up and take a role in it,” said Lashanett Lorraine, a 22-year-old Florida A&M University student from Orlando.
Florida’s Republican leadership, including Scott and Senate President Don Gaetz, have said they have no plans to call an actual special session to change or repeal the law, which a majority of Florida voters have supported consistently in public polling.
Responding to criticism from civil-rights leader Harry Belafonte that Florida was beginning to look “ungovernable,” Gaetz on Monday suggested critics of the law would need to defeat Florida’s current Republican-controlled Legislature at the ballot box to make a change of course in policy.
“We have a Legislature elected by the people. We have a governor elected by the people. We have an election coming up in 2014,” Gaetz said. “If people want to change the policies, that’s why we have elections.”
But Jackson said the controversy was damaging Florida’s image as a tourism and trade hub, and that the protests would only intensify until political action was taken.
Later this week, students from around the state are planning to rotate in to take the place of the current protestors, who have held vigils, sung songs and held rallies in the Capitol halls for 15 days.
“Florida is today a very toxic place. It led the drive for these Stand Your Ground laws,” Jackson said.
Scott, a perennially unpopular governor, is facing a potentially difficult re-election challenge next year and Jackson said the controversy could play into that campaign.
“We’ve seen Southern governors before change their minds,” Jackson said. “Wallace said we couldn’t go to the University of Alabama. he had to change his mind,” he added, referencing the former Alabama governor’s 1963 “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” to try and deny two Black students admittance to the university.
By: Aaron Deslatte