It’s been six days since activists began their sit-in at the Florida Capitol Building in Tallahassee, but you wouldn’t know since no newspaper outside Florida seems to care (except Breitbart.com, which somehow construed the sit-in as an elegy to Andrew Breitbart’s “outspoken passion”.) Estimates put 40 people in the building nonstop since July 16, and as many as 110 in the building over the weekend. Since we’ve got a nasty racial profiling problem of our own here, we at the Voice thought it might be edifying to profile examples of what people elsewhere are doing about it.
We spoke with Yeshi Milner, an organizer for Miami-based Power U and sit-in participant since Friday, about what the protestors are doing, what the Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act could mean for young men of color in Florida, and how Governor Rick Scott likes to wear boots adorned with a Confederate flag.
(Full disclosure: Milner is a friend of mine from college.)
Explain exactly why you decided to sit in.
We are sitting in on the capitol building. The plan originally was not to leave until we got a meeting with Governor Scott about Trayvon’s Law and until he agreed to the Trayvon Martin law. There are three stipulations in the [Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act]. The first is to repeal the Stand Your Ground law. There is robust evidence that the it favors white people over black people. And it’s just not working. Just look at Marissa Alexander, who is a woman who shot a gun in self-defense against her abusive husband. She is now facing 20 years.
The second is we want an end to racial profile in Forida in general. That means looking into police policies, coming up with new policies, figuring out how to retrain police, and so on.
The third thing is to end the school to prison pipeline, the system by which poor black and Latino students have greater contact with the justice system through the school system because of zero tolerance laws. It’s a scare tactic that originated around the Clinton Crime Bill era because of the Columbine shooting.
What are you proposing as alternatives to Stand Your Ground and zero-tolerance laws?
We are seeking restorative justice. Restorative justice is a set of policies that address the root causes of misbehavior. Especially in the school system, it works because it offers the person who did the harm, or the offender in more penal language, a chance to speak and give their side of it, and it also allows the person who received the harm, or a victim in more penal language, to speak.
You can do something called a peace circle instead. In the peace circle it would be a police officer, it would be a teacher, it would be family members, it would be the person who was stolen from, for example, and it would be the person accused of stealing. It lets you find out why that person stole in the first place, like if his father lost his job. And talking and giving voice helps find a way to restore what was lost by the victim.
The protesters have been there since Tuesday, and you had a meeting with Governor Scott on Thursday. Why are you still there?
By Thursday we were actually able to get a meeting with the governor. One representative of Power U went into the meeting. The minute they got in there, he had on boots and asked [the delegates] “do you know what this Confederate flag means?” I honestly could not script this.
He said he’s not going to repeal Stand Your Ground, and he’s not going to call a special session to pass Trayvon’s law. Instead of calling a special session, he said the only thing we can solve is racial profiling, and only through prayer. So he made Sunday a Day of Prayer.
We have plans to be here at least through the next week.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 22, 2013