Damon Hewitt, Director of the Education Practice Group at LDF, met with and delivered testimony to the Dream Defenders yesterday during the sixteenth day of their sit-in at the Florida Governor’s office.
Inspired by sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement, dozens of college aged and young people have been living in Gov. Rick Scott’s office, agitating for the repeal or major reform of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which featured prominently in discussions about trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
According to the Dreamers’ mission, they are “taking a stand not only in Trayvon’s memory, but for our worth as people and citizens of Florida.” Hewitt was greatly impressed by their vision and focus, especially among the children in the group. “These young people are absolutely fierce, sharp and incredibly focused on their goals” he said, reflecting after spending hours with them at the sit-in.
In addition, the Defenders have also been agitating for a ban on racial profiling and an end to the School-to-Prison Pipeline, a terrible pattern in which children are funneled out of public schools and often pushed into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Data suggests that Florida has one of the worst Pipelines, with more documented referrals of students from schools to juvenile justice and law enforcement than any other state.
Hewitt, along with other community leaders and the Dreamers, delivered testimony during a mock legislative session convened to persuade Florida Governor Rick Perry to call a special session of the Florida Legislature. The Dreamers and affiliated youth organizations shared powerful stories about particularly horrific episodes of racial discrimination and exclusionary discipline.
One high school student talked about his 10-day suspension from school – his school district effectively forgot about him. He received neither any counseling nor any alternative education. There was no communication between him and the school. His mother wasn’t even informed that he was suspended. This is the definition of push-out.
Another young girl clearly and passionately articulated the full implementation of Restorative Justice Practices in schools as an alternative to exclusionary discipline that undermines educationally opportunity.
Hewitt and Florida NAACP leader Dale Landry also discussed an infamous 2005 incident in which five-year-old kindergarten student Ja’eisha Scott was handcuffed and shackled for throwing a temper tantrum at her elementary school in St. Petersburg. After that incident LDF, the Florida NAACP and Advancement Project held a series of public hearings on racial disparities in school prison, touring six different Florida counties. These efforts led to some legislative reforms, but much more work remains to be done.
The Dream Defenders, along with LDF and other advocacy and legal organizations such as NAACP, Advancement Project, and the Dignity in Schools Campaign are on the front lines in the fightto reform Stand Your Ground laws, end racial profiling, and dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
You can watch video footage of the testimony and sit-in and also show your support by visiting the Dream Defenders website! www.Dreamdefenders.org.