Sept. 23, 2014
The Dream Defenders are taking their message to the floor of the United Nations.
The group, which is against Florida’s “stand your ground” law and formed in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, submitted an eight-page shadow report Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Committee answering questions the committee raised as to whether stand your ground violates the United States’ civil rights obligations.
The group has gained momentum since the July acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case. They initiated a 31-day occupation of the Capitol building in Tallahassee to pressure members of the Florida House of Representatives to hold a legislative hearing on “stand your ground.”
Composed mainly of college students from across the state, the group drafted its own bill called Trayvon’s Law, which repeals “stand your ground.”
The shadow report is only the latest in the Dream Defenders’ ongoing desire to become a persistent force against civil rights violations.
In a partnership with Florida Legal Services, Inc. and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the report hopes to make known perceived misuses of stand your ground to the international community.
Chabeli Herrera / WUFT News
Dream Defenders from around the state of Florida gathered Sept. 23 for lobbying training sessions at the Tallahassee capitol building in their continued fight against the “stand your ground” law. The group was formed in 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin and has since gained international attention.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee’s placed “stand your ground” on the list of issues it wishes the United States to respond to.
The U.S. will be under review on Oct. 18. as one of the signatories of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaty. The U.S. signed the treaty in 1976 along with 73 other countries to ensure individual freedoms and citizen equality. The countries are subjected to periodic review by the U.N. Human Rights Committee to assure compliance with the treaty.
“The action at the Capitol, the fact that the review is happening in October, the fact that stand your ground was part of the list of issues, all the factors converged to make this an opportune time to write this report,” said Meena Jagannath, staff attorney at the Community Justice Project at Florida Legal Services and one of the report’s authors.
The report highlights certain “stand your ground” cases across Florida. Among them is the case of Jack “Sandy” Newstedt of Sebastian, a 21-year-old black man who wandered into the wrong house early one morning and was shot by the homeowner.
Newstedt’s case was brought to the attention of the Dream Defenders by his sister, who testified at one of the Dream Defenders’ people sessions where community members were asked to share stories on how “stand your ground” issues had impacted their lives.
“We wanted to raise up the voices that wouldn’t ever really reach that level because it wasn’t really reported on in the media,” Jagannath said.
The report argues there is a racial disparity in the application of the law. It cites aTampa Bay Times database of “stand your ground” cases since it was passed. According to the database, a defendant who killed a white person was two times more likely to be convicted of the crime than a defendant who killed a black person.
“People may have the image of the United States of being completely just and equal,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, Legal Policy Director for the Dream Defenders who participated in writing the report. “We are telling a different story. We are telling the story of the work that still needs to be done in the United States of America, the story of the disproportionate effects on minority communities and ‘stand your ground’ is one of those issues.”
Abuznaid said he hopes the statistics in the report will bring attention to the situation of discrimination in America.
“We’d like to see the international community, the United Nations, recognize this and do some outreach to our government and let them know that the world is watching and everything isn’t peachy and fuzzy in the U.S.,” he said.
“Stand your ground” supporters think the move will not be a threat to the law.
“Florida Carry takes the position that no non-U.S. organization has any right to tell us what our rights are under our constitution,” said Eric Friday, lead counsel at Florida Carry, an organization dedicated to advancing the rights of Floridians to bear arms.
“They are taking the cause internationally because they have completely failed in their attempts with Florida legislature to change Florida law,” Friday said, “so now they are trying to run to outside organizations that they think can do something but can really do nothing.”
Shamile Louis, an executive board member of the University of Florida Dream Defenders, said at the local level, the report demonstrates the work being done by motivated young adults is meaningful work, bringing attention to their cause in Gainesville and across the state.
“By taking this to a higher level and not just keeping it consolidated to Florida and to the U.S. (and) by having this on a worldwide platform, it puts even more pressures on our legislators and our government to do right by its own people,” she said.
“I hope it energizes the youth across the U.S. and across the world to organize, to motivate and to move and hopefully we can make this world the beloved community that we hope it is,” Abuznaid said.