Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday demanded an apology from longtime civil rights activist Jesse Jackson for comparing the state’s struggle with the Trayvon Martin case to the civil rights clashes with police during the 1960s in Selma, Ala.
Jackson spent the night with protesters upset that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Martin. They’ve refused to leave the Capitol until Scott calls a special session to have legislators overhaul the state’s self-defense laws.
Jackson called Florida the “Selma of our time” and even compared Scott to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace. While he was governor, Wallace famously stood in the door at the University of Alabama to try to block the entry of two black students.
Scott so far has refused the request and the protest has dragged on for more than two weeks. The protesters have gotten national media attention and won support from celebrities such as entertainer Harry Belafonte and others who have urged people to boycott Florida.
Scott in a release blasted Jackson’s comments as “reckless” and “divisive” and said that he should apologize to residents.
“It is unfortunate that he would come to Florida to insult Floridians and divide our state at a time when we are striving for unity and healing,” Scott said.
But Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for the Rainbow PUSH coalition started by Jackson, said there was no need for an apology.
“The governor has a deafening ear to the cries of those asking him to take a moral stand, not a political stand,” Grant said.
Jackson left Tallahassee earlier Wednesday and wasn’t immediately made available to comment.
Grant, though, said Jackson made his comments not only in response to the Zimmerman verdict but because of the case of Marissa Alexander.
Alexander, who is from Jacksonville, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a bullet at a wall to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her. A judge refused to let her use a “stand your ground” defense.
Grant said that thousands of Floridians support Jackson and agree that the state’s “stand your ground” law is egregious.
But that view isn’t shared by Scott or other Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature. Senate President Don Gaetz earlier this week that while he understands that some people are “frustrated” with the verdict that doesn’t mean the law should be changed.
In our system, a verdict is not then referred to a referendum of the people who are interested in the issue or who are passionate about the issue,” Gaetz said. “A verdict is a verdict.”
The protesters, many of whom belong to a group called the Dream Defenders, want the special session to consider changing state laws to repeal Florida’s “stand your ground” law and to end racial profiling and zero-tolerance policies in public schools.
Protesters this week started their own mock session in the Old Capitol. They also are trying to urge 32 legislators to ask for a special session. Under Florida law, if 32 legislators make that demand, then the Department of State must poll the Legislature. If three-fifths of lawmakers agree, then a special session must be called.