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Gov. Scott says no to demands but protestors remain

Dream Defenders march to governor's office. (Dante Rucker)
Dream Defenders march to governor's office. (Dante Rucker)
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Updated: 7/18/2013 10:30 am
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott reiterated Wednesday that he has no plans to call a special session to have legislators address the state's self-defense laws following the George Zimmerman trial.

Scott's words so far are having little effect on the small group of protesters upset that Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

As many as 30 protesters remained in the Capitol after hours, ready to spend a second straight night in the hallway near Scott's office. The group had pillows, bottled water, pizza and other food. They started chanting and signing loudly phrases such as "Mama, mama, can't you see what the system done to me" once the doors were closed to government offices.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that the protesters - many of whom are members of a group called Dream Defenders - would be allowed to stay overnight again.

Protester Steven Pargett said the group would "wait" until their demands - which includes changing the state's "stand your ground law" - were met. Scott spent the day in Pensacola and Panama City and has not yet seen the protesters since they arrived earlier in the week.

"The governor has not yet arrived so apparently this isn't a priority of his," Pargett said. "This is a huge priority of ours. This is the largest priority that we have and it's not just us ... So we're here and we'll wait and we'll wait."

At a stop in Pensacola, Scott said he supported people giving their views.

"I think it is great that people are exercising their voices," Scott said.

But he repeated his statement from Tuesday that he does not believe any changes need to be made to the state's "stand your ground" law. It allows someone to use deadly force if they believe their life is in danger. The 2005 law eliminated a provision that required people outside their homes to have a "duty to retreat" from a threat.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, addressing the NAACP in Orlando on Tuesday, said all such laws across the country need to be reassessed. He said they "sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods."

Scott's position is the same as the one reached by a task force he created last year after the Martin shooting.

The Republican governor would not say if he planned to meet with the protesters.

Scott - who did spend Tuesday night at the mansion after a day in New York City - is not expected to be in Tallahassee for the rest of the week.

Scott's handling of the protests is quickly turning into a political issue for him. The head of the Florida NAACP wrote him a letter urging him to "immediately" return to the Capitol to address the "outcry" over the Zimmerman verdict.

Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference NAACP, in her letter contended that families don't know what to tell to children on how to remain safe.

"This verdict has caused families to ask the question - 'What should I tell my child in order to keep them safe and alive in Florida?" she wrote Scott. "We are the fourth largest state in the union with one of the nation's most diverse populations. This is not the kind of Florida our children deserve."

Scott sent a response late Wednesday to the NAACP president stating that the state's crime rate is at a 42-year-low. He said in his letter that the task force he set up was in response to concerns after Martin's "tragic death" and he said "cannot imagine the pain the Martin family is experiencing." But he again said he "concurred" with recommendations to keep the law as it is. He also said that "stand your ground" wasn't argued in the Zimmerman case, although the provisions from the law were used in the instructions handed to the jury.

Democratic legislators are also beginning to chime in. The two top Democrats in the Florida Legislature plan to hold a news conference on Thursday to respond to "deep community concerns" over the verdict.

Rep. Alan Williams, who has spent time with the protesters the last two days, warned Scott that the group was the "most passionate" he was likely to encounter during his four years in office. He said that previous governors would have at least listened to what they had to say.

"If this was Charlie Crist or Jeb Bush, they would have come and talked with them," said Williams, D-Tallahassee.
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