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Zimmerman Verdict Protesters Hold ‘People’s Session’ At State Capitol

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The first wave of Dream Defenders around the Capitol Rotunda. (Source: dreamdefenders.org)

The first wave of Dream Defenders around the Capitol Rotunda. (Source: dreamdefenders.org)

Trayvon Martin

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – More than two weeks after George Zimmerman was acquitted charges for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a group of protesters continue to stand their ground in the hallway near Governor Scott’s office in Tallahassee.

“We’ve really made ourselves at home here waiting on the governor to show some leadership,” said Philip Agnew, the director of the Dream Defenders, the protesters that remain in Tallahassee.

The protesters, after Governor Rick Scott continues to deny their demands to call a special legislative session, have taken matters in their own hands by holding a People’s Session.

Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the protesters a hand Tuesday who visited the students and pledged to join them in sleeping at the Capitol as they continue to bring attention to their cause.

The People’s Session was considerably shorter than an official session. It took about 15 minutes for the opening day processions, held in the Senate side of the historic Capitol. The normal moment of prayer was observed and the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and then a series of resolutions — more nonbinding than usual because of the nature of the event — were approved unanimously by the group of protesters.

One called for Trayvon Martin Day to be observed every Feb. 5. Another called for the pardoning of Marissa Alexander, a domestic-abuse victim whose conviction for firing what amounted to a warning shot at her alleged abuser has been cited as an example of the unfair application of the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law.

Yet another invited people to a rally planned for Friday as the protesters, who have staged a 15-day sit-in at Scott’s office, try to draw attention to their demands that Scott call the Legislature into session to repeal “stand your ground” — which broadened self-defense rights in Florida — and pass measures aimed at ending racial profiling and zero-tolerance policies in schools.

After the session was over, 71-year-old Jackson went back towards Scott’s office.

Jackson connected Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Martin to dozens of other unarmed African-Americans killed by police, security guards or “vigilantes,” in Jackson’s word.

“Trayvon was a canary in the mine,” Jackson said. “There are many more birds in that mine.”

Jackson invoked Selma in remarks to reporters, telling them that “massive non-violent resistance” was justified until Florida changed its behavior. And he seemed undaunted by Scott’s repeated insistence that he has no intention of calling the Legislature, the one that can change the law, back into session.

“We hope that the moral appeal and the urgency of the matter will change his mind,” Jackson said. “We’ve seen Southern governors before have to change their minds.”

The protesters pledge to stay until Scott does just that. Phillip Agnew, the director of Dream Defenders — a group leading the demonstrations — half-jokingly noted to reporters that the paintings of former governors that usually hang outside Scott’s office had been removed in a bit of redecorating.

“We’ve really made ourselves at home here waiting on the governor to show some leadership,” Agnew said.

On Monday, 17 protesters spent the night, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which said the total costs for keeping an eye on the demonstrators has hit $212,337.53.

The protests continued, with no signs of being as brief as Tuesday’s session.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

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