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Nancy Smith

FDLE Gave Dream Defenders Permission to Protest Overnight

July 29, 2013 - 6:00pm

UPDATED: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement alone, not the governor's office, made the decision to allow protesters to occupy the Capitol overnight and during weekends, FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed Tuesday.

The ability to remain in the building 24/7 is a courtesy not extended to the general public. But Plessinger said the department's decision was based on the belief that encouraging the Hialeah-based Dream Defenders to remain in the courtyard, or in the parking lot and on streets "is not in the interest of public safety," either for the protesters or the officers keeping order.

The governor's office has clocked 278 calls from citizens concerned about the protest, governor's spokesperson Jackie Schultz told Sunshine State News Wednesday morning.

"The Dream Defenders called the Capitol police in advance of their protest as they are supposed to," Plessinger said. "We told them they could spend the night in the building if they followed our three after-hours rules."

Those three rules: 1) protesters can remain after 5 p.m. when the Capitol closes, but if they leave, they can't return until it reopens; 2) protesters must remain peaceful; and 3) protesters must remain within designated areas on the building's Plaza level.

Despite the presence of only 17 overnighters at the Capitol Tuesday, a mock legislative session drew more daytripper-protesters, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said less than two weeks ago he would boycott Florida and other Americans should join him.

Without mentioning the boycott, he told reporters and protesters he had come because "massive nonviolent resistance" had become necessary in racially divided Florida. "Here, the law must change," he said. "Hearts must change."

Jackson compared the Dream Defenders' protest to Selma, Ala.

In March 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., after a five-day, 54-mile march from Selma, where local African-Americans, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had been campaigning for voting rights.

When reporters reminded Jackson that Gov. Rick Scott is unlikely to change his mind and call a special session to reconsider the state's Stand Your Ground law, he said, "We've seen Southern governors before have to change their minds."

During the mock session, the Dream Defenders established Trayvon Martin Day in Florida and called for another rally -- this one Friday -- to try again to coerce Scott and legislative leaders to call a special session.

Jackson, wearing a Dream Defenders tee-shirt, said he would spend the night in the Capitol to further show his support.

As of July 29, the total cost for Capitol security since the protest began was calculated at $212,337.53. Of that total, $87,674.92 was overtime incurred by the round-the-clock protest.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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