"I’m here because you called. I’m here because I am a part of your history," notable civil rights activist and musical icon Harry Belafonte declared Friday to a crowd of hundreds of demonstrators inside the main rotunda of the Florida capitol building.
The rally, billed as #theTakeover, was one of a number of demonstrations staged by the Dream Defenders since the group took residence in the capitol on July 16 in an ongoing sit-in to call attention to what they are saying is the 'systemic criminalization of black and brown youth.'
The protesters are calling on Florida Governor Rick Scott to hold a special session of the legislature to repeal the controversial Stand Your Ground law, address the dangerous and ongoing practice of racial profiling, and amend the "war on youth that paints us as criminals and funnels us out of schools and into jails."
"We understand that we have to go right to the source of power and we have to fight with them in order to make real change," protester Daniel Agnew recently told YES! Magazine. "That’s why we’re at the state capitol, because that’s where things change."
Over the weekend, the Defenders' camp was buoyed by a number of faith-based organizations and students from up and down the east coast. Since occupying the capitol building, the sit-in demonstrators—whose numbers fluctuate from 15 or 16 to over 100, depending on time of day—have been busy building and organizing for upcoming demonstrations.
"I’m doing this because I believe that Florida has been shown that they don’t really value the lives of our youth, with the school-to-prison pipeline and forcing our kids out of school and into drug programs or into house arrest," said protest organizer Jabari Mickles. "Social injustice is going on in the state of Florida and black and brown young people are disproportionally penalized. We need change if we actually say we care about the future of Florida, and not just the future of people who have money."
"[W]hen you’re talking about racial profiling and the school-to-prison pipeline in general, you’re talking about disenfranchising a whole class of citizens and making them second-class citizens," added outreach organizer Melanie Andrade. Andrade points out that—though the Stand Your Ground rule has become a central rallying theme—these conversations have been occurring since before the trial and that the problem goes far beyond that legislation.
"Stand Your Ground isn’t what put the bullet in Trayvon. The culture that Zimmerman was brought up in—this whole environment of safety first, everybody is scared of people, people profile each other and don’t even realize it—that whole culture is what we’re talking about."