TALLAHASSEE, Fla. » Protesters who set up camp in the state Capitol building earlier this week finally got to meet with Gov. Rick Scott late Thursday, and they urged him to push for the repeal of Florida’s "stand-your-ground" law and to take steps to combat racial profiling.
In a conference room near his office suite, Scott met for nearly an hour with seven leaders of the protest, which began Tuesday. They described their frustration about last weekend’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin and their own experiences of being racially profiled.
Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting death of Travyon Martin who was unarmed. His attorneys argued that he shot Martin in self-defense, but the case sparked an outcry because Martin was black and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Saying the 17-year-old’s death happened on Scott’s watch, the protesters renewed their request that the Republican governor call state legislators into special session to repeal the law which justifies the use of deadly force when a person’s life is in danger.
"There has to be a comprehensive approach to make sure every child in Florida can feel safe again," Gabriel Pendas told the governor.
Scott listened intently and took copious notes on a yellow legal pad. But at the end of the meeting he told them directly that he supported keeping the "stand-your-ground" law intact and he would not call a special session.
Scott, who said he had spoken earlier in the evening with Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, instead said he would call for a day of prayer Sunday for unity.
He also urged the protesters to talk to local legislators if they wanted to change state law and offer them examples of why they believe it may lead to more violence.
"If you believe stand-your-ground should be repealed tell them why," Scott said.
It is considered unlikely the GOP-controlled Legislature would revisit the stand-your-ground law, which had the strong backing of the National Rifle Association.
The governor also asked them to give him ideas about how to combat racial profiling.
Near the end of the meeting, Scott told them: "I appreciate you and I look forward to seeing you again."
After the meeting, protesters reiterated that Scott should show leadership and call legislators into special session. They said they would remain in the Capitol until he agreed to their demands.
"We’re not here to play games," said Phillip Agnew, who is executive director of the Dream Defenders, one of the groups that organized the protest. "… We’re very serious about this. And it pains our heart that we do live in a state where a child can be killed just for the way he looks."
The protesters marched on the Capitol Tuesday and began occupying Scott’s office. The group has refused to leave the building and they have brought in pillows and mats to sleep in the hallway while supporters have brought them food.
Scott has been out of town for much of the week and his arrival at the Capitol on Thursday evening was his first since the protest began.
The meeting between Scott and the protesters was polite. He spent time asking the protesters whether they were in college and what part of the state they were from.
For their part, they spoke to him about the problems that confront young people in the state especially those who are black or Latino.
Melanie Andrade, who said her family came from the Cape Verde Islands to work at Disney World, told the governor how she lived in a gated community in central Florida but that she and her brother would constantly be asked for ID by police even when they were standing in their own driveway.
Andrade and other protesters said some of the problems they have witnessed could be addressed by passing a comprehensive law named after Trayvon Martin that would not just deal with self-defense laws but would address racial profiling.