Dream Defenders Occupation Of Florida Capitol Enters Second Month

Aug 15, 2013

Since July 16, a group of protestors has occupied the area of the Florida State Capitol outside Governor Rick Scott’s office. Ever since the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, they’ve been camped out-- calling for changes to the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.

The Dream Defenders demonstrating at the Florida State Capitol, where they have been encamped since July 16.
Credit Dream Defenders/Clique Visuals

On Tuesday, ten protesters claiming to represent global warming interests and one Dream Defender protester were ejected from the capitol, and the cost to monitor the protesters continues to rise.

The estimated overtime pay for Capitol Police Officers and officers from the Tallahassee Regional Operations Center for time spent supervising the Dream Defenders is fast approaching $150,000.

The total estimated cost to the state as of Tuesday was 388,924 and 97 cents.

Those statistics are based on emails from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement containing both the estimated costs and a daily incident report.

The incident narratives have ranged from the basic, noting groups of protestors coming in from other states or the number of protestors who staying in the building overnight, to the bizarre.

For example, on Monday, August 5, “One protester measured the East Plaza doors, but refused to answer when an officer asked him why he was measuring.”

“I believe the reason they were measuring is that they actually brought in a mural a couple of days later,” said Gretl Plessinger communications director with the FDLE’s Office of External Affairs.

According to Plessinger, the estimated costs listed in the emails are based on hourly wage data provided by the department’s Office of Financial Management.

“The average salary wage plus benefits for a law enforcement officer is calculated at $24.55, and $30.56 for sergeants and investigators, " she said.

"The overtime wage is calculated at $31.76 for law enforcement officers and $39.53 for sergeants and investigators."

The incident reports are compiled from a daily incident log and additional reports from Capitol Police.

“Everything involving the protestors goes into the incident report that you get,” said Plessinger.  

“I think that the Capitol Police are reporting every incident that has happened, whether be exaggerated or just misunderstood,” said Ciara Taylor, political director of the Dream Defenders.

One of those misunderstandings appears to have occurred the evening of August 10.

The state’s email report reads, “Protestors complied with orders from Capitol Police to cease constructing a wall of plastic containers.” Plessinger says the plastic bins are used by protestors to store bedding.

“It was after hours and they were setting them up around their sleeping area, and it inhibited the officers’ sightline, so they asked them to remove them,” she explained.

According to Taylor, the incident stemmed from attempts by demonstrators to comply with previous instructions by officers to move bedding and food to a designated overnight area before 5 p.m.

“What happened was, when people were bringing down our bedding and our storage, they started spreading it out, and so then they told us, ‘No, you can’t spread it out. You have to wait until 5 p.m.’,” she said.

“They said that we had to put it along the wall, our storage containers, and so then people automatically moved them. We’re not trying to cause any trouble.”

According to Plessinger the demonstrators have been “respectful and peaceful” during their time at the capitol, and despite what she called some “bumps in the road” early in the occupation, Taylor said the police have been respectful and “friendly.”

However, Taylor added that there are times when what she would consider an unnecessary number of officers are present.

“There was one Sunday, where there were only 30 Dream Defenders and there were 17 officers in the building. I think some would question why that overuse of police force is even necessary.”

“That’s more police officers than there probably are in the building during legislative session when there are many groups present.”

While the daily enforcement expenses have decreased since the start of the protest, Plessinger says as long as the Dream Defenders remain at the capitol, additional staffing will be necessary.

Taylor said the Dream Defenders aren’t leaving until the passage of “Trayvon’s Law” - a policy package they introduced with the NAACP that, among other measures, would repeal the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, ban racial profiling by law enforcement, and dismantle the state’s “school to prison pipeline.”

They could be there for a while. Republican state lawmakers have successfully blocked a request by Democrats to hold a special legislative session on the issue. Governor Rick Scott also said he will not call a special session to address "Stand Your Ground." 

Taylor wouldn’t say whether the protesters were prepared to stay at the capitol indefinitely.

You can follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrickhdonges.

From the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement’s email incident reports from the capitol protests:

  • July 23 - DMS cleaning crew member reported walking in on a nude female washing her body in the plaza level female bathroom just after 7 a.m. Estimated daily cost of police presence - $18,522.32
  • July 27 - A non-employee attempted to enter the building with doughnuts for the protestors. The individual was not allowed access per previously established policy. Estimated daily cost of police presence - $16,016.62
  • August 5–One protester measured the East Plaza doors, but refused to answer when an officer asked him why he was measuring. Estimated daily cost of police presence - $15,721.34
  • August 8 – After hours, two protestors were discovered in an off-limits area of the Capitol.  Protesters were new to the group and had not been properly oriented by their leadership.  Protest leaders were advised if this happens again, those outside the designated Plaza Level area will be removed from the Capitol. Estimated daily cost of police presence - $12,674.77
  • August 10 – Protesters complied with orders from Capitol Police to cease constructing a wall of plastic containers. Estimated daily cost of police presence - $7,012.34
  • August 13 –Ten protesters claiming to represent global warming interests and one Dream Defender protester were ejected from the building after being found in an off-limits area. Estimated daily cost of police presence - $12,667.28