Theyve been camped out at Gov. Rick Scotts office for 31 days and 30 nights, but the Dream Defenders announced Thursday will be their last day staying in Tallahassee at the Florida Capitol.
The group of young people and mostly students has been there since July 16, protesting the Stand Your Ground law in Florida after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin. They demanded a special session to discuss the law and vowed they would not leave the marble halls of the Capitol until onewas held.
The protesters have gathered the attention of national media, of celebrities, musicians, artists, civil rights activists, and legislators across the state. Their sit-in was the catalyst to a polling of Florida legislators, who ultimately denied the request for a special session to discuss the law. Gov. Rick Scott also had rejected a special session.
With protesters leaving Thursday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement assesses the final total of security costs for the 24/7 demonstration inside the Capitol at $153,630.
"I'm proud to announce that our work and power has grown too big for these halls, began executive director of the Dream Defenders Phillip Agnew. This is the last time I will sleep on this floor. This isn't the last time you will hear from the Dream Defenders. We are indeed leaving the Capitol for our next phase.
Agnew said the Dream Defenders had spent more time in the Capitol than Gov. Rick Scott, who met with protesters there in July.
"We came here because we knew Stand Your Ground had no ground to stand on, said Agnew. No matter what your definition of power is, we came here because we knew that in the state of Florida, we had none.
Said Julian Bond, first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who met with protesters Thursday, "You are ending a protest because you are starting a movement." Bond served as chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1998 to 2010.
Phillip Agnew emphasized that although the sit-in is over for the Dream Defenders, their work has only just begun.
He said they will meet with agency officials at the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Education and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about working toward policy changes. He also spoke about a proposed hearing on Stand Your Ground by Speaker of the House Will Weatherford at a Sept. 23 House Criminal Justice Committee meeting and a similar agreement for a hearing from that committee's chairman, Rep. Matt Gaetz.
After Thursdays press conference, the Dream Defenders announced they will march to the governors mansion to issue his eviction notice.
Although Thursday is the last day the group will be camped out at the Capitol, members said they will be back the week of Sept. 23 when the Florida Legislature returns for Committee Week.
The Dream Defenders' spirits didnt seem to be dampened as their overnight protest came to an end.
Weve been here for 31 days and 30 nights. So me, personally, Im fired up, began one protester, to which the Dream Defenders chanted back: Im fired up, I cant take it no more.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at email@example.com.